“Be bear aware, take care!” – Tips for recreating safely in bear country

HELENA, Mont. (November 8, 2019) – Many people are heading out to public lands this time of year, especially as hunting season unfolds. While winter is on its way, those enjoying the great outdoors need to know that many bears are still out and actively searching for food. Wildlife and land management officials want to share some tips and rules with recreationalists to help minimize their chances of encountering bears this fall.

Before heading out on your outdoor adventure, make sure to familiarize yourself with the area’s Food Storage Order and follow all requirements while you are in the field. Once a bear associates a place or item with food, it is likely to return or to seek out similar situations in hopes of finding more food. Food Storage Orders decrease the potential for human–wildlife encounters by reducing the chance for a bear to associate humans, campsites, etc. with food.

Beginning in July 2018, the entire Helena-Lewis and Clark National Forest has adopted Food Storage Orders to help provide for public safety. Three Food Storage Orders cover the forest’s entire 2.8-million-acre landscape:

  • Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem Food Storage Order
    • Covers the forest’s Lincoln and Rocky Mountain ranger districts
    • This long–standing order was not changed in July 2018
  • Crazy Mountains Food Storage Order
    • Covers the Helena-Lewis and Clark National Forest portion of the Crazy Mountains on the Belt Creek–White Sulphur Springs Ranger District
    • This order is specifically written to mirror the Food Storage Order in place on the Custer-Gallatin National Forest’s portion of the Crazy Mountains. The entire mountain range now has the same Food Storage Order requirements, regardless of different National Forest boundaries.
  • Helena-Lewis and Clark National Forest (Remaining Areas) Food Storage Order
    • Covers the Belt Creek–White Sulphur Springs (excluding the Crazy Mountains), Helena, Judith-Musselshell, and Townsend ranger districts
    • This order includes the Elkhorn Mountains, of which management is shared between the Helena-Lewis and Clark and Beaverhead-Deerlodge national forests.
  • These Food Storage Orders are posted on the Helena-Lewis and Clark National Forest website: www.fs.usda.gov/hlcnf.

Food storage orders are in place on all National Forests in Montana, and on some state lands. Be sure to understand the requirements of the area where you plan to visit. For a list of all food storage orders in Montana, go to: www.igbconline.org/food-storage-regulations-2.

In the fall, when food sources become scarce and time for hibernation nears, bears become even more focused on finding and consuming food. During this time of year, bears may be more aggressive in defending food sources and may pay less attention to their surroundings, including the presence of humans in the area. Many bears will not enter hibernation until late November.

Below are some tips and information for those who recreate in bear country:

  • Carry bear spray (in an easily accessible spot) in addition to a firearm.
  • Hunting alone, traveling at dawn and dusk, and handling game meat can all increase the risk of a potential bear encounter.
  • Be extra vigilant in areas with water sources, thick vegetation, or reduced visibility.
  • Remember that many things may act as an attractant to a bear. Bears may be attracted to anything that smells like potential food.
  • If you need to leave a wildlife carcass unattended, be sure to observe the area from a distance and make noise when returning to the area later. The longer a carcass is on the ground, the greater chance a predator may find it.
  • Plan ahead; pack a tarp to drag gut piles away from carcasses.
  • Follow the Food Storage Order requirements related to wildlife carcasses. At night, all wildlife carcasses within one–half–mile of any sleeping area are required to be stored in a bear–resistant manner.
  • Carcasses, animal parts, gut piles, or other remains are recommended to be kept at least 100 yards from a trail or day use area at all times.

For more information, visit bit.ly/HLC-BeBearAware or contact Sara Sylte, Helena-Lewis and Clark National Forest Bear Education Specialist, at (406) 495-3793 or sara.sylte@usda.gov.



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