Outdoor Safety & Ethics

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Many Montana national forests are home to the large and powerful grizzly bear. Where grizzly bears and humans occur together, conflicts may occasionally arise. The successful conservation and recovery of the grizzly bear involves habitat management and actions to minimize grizzly - human conflict potential.

Montana is Bear Country

Montana is home to both black and grizzly bears. See the Montana Fish Wildlife & Parks All About Bears webpage for a good overview of bears found on the Kootenai National Forest

Bear Identification

There are several useful physical features that will help you tell the difference between grizzly and black bears. In general, none should be used alone. Color and size are not reliable indicators and should not be used to identify species.  For help in identifying bears through these differences, see the following links:

Bear Safety

Although aggression toward people and human injury is rare, incidents may occur during a surprise encounter, the protection of cubs, a defense of a food cache, or when bears have become accustomed to obtaining food associated with humans. When a bear becomes habituated to humans, displays aggression towards people or becomes conditioned to human food, the result is capture and relocation or removal from the population.

Bear Safety Precautions

Precautions must be taken when working or recreationg in bear country for your personal safety.  Additionally, you can help prevent a situation where a bear is killed because it has become a nuisance or dangerous due to improper human actions.

Key Precautions

The Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee summarizes bear safety precautions as follows:

  • Bears can be anywhere. Assume their presence. Avoiding a conflict is easier than dealing with one.
  • Keep food and other attractants away from bears.
  • Be prepared to handle a bear encounter.

See the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee "Be Bear Aware" webpage for more information on each of these precautions.

See the following bear safety resources for more information.

Additional Bear Safety Resources

Visit the following links to learn more about how to be safe in bear country.


There is a black bear hunting season in Montana. An identification program set up by the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks is intended to prevent mistaken identity killings of grizzly bears. Killing a grizzly bear in the lower 48 States is both a federal and state offense that can bring criminal and civil penalties of up to $50,000 and a year in jail.

Science and Management

All Federal Agencies have responsibility and are directed by the Endangered Species Act to utilize their authorities, in cooperation with State and local agencies, to promote the conservation of endangered and threatened species including the grizzly bear. The Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee was established to help ensure recovery of viable grizzly bear populations and their habitats in the lower 48 states through interagency coordination of policy, planning, management, and research. Current studies on genetics, population numbers, and population trends are being conducted within the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem by the United States Geologic Service and the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks.

Two important bear habitat management actions involve providing for secure habitat, and the proper storage of food, garbage and other attractants. .

Secure Habitat

Road access provides for important forest management and recreation but must be balanced with maintenance costs and environmental effects. Research has demonstrated that grizzly bear mortality is directly influenced by road access. Management of road access density involves using gates or berms to establish closures for motorized vehicles in order to create more secure habitat for grizzly bears and other wildlife. We appreciate your cooperation in observing these restrictions. Check with the Forest or Ranger District office for more specific travel information.

Food Storage

Expand the following section to learn more about proper food storage and the Forest Order that requires it on the Kootenai.

A food storage order signed in 2022 requires food storage practice across the Forest to reduce the potential for human-wildlife encounters.

Food, carcasses, and attractants must be stored in a bear-resistant container or stored in a bear-resistant manner if they are unattended. Please see the 2022 Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem food storage order and map [PDF, 1.6MB].

You may also use the Food Storage Regulation Interactive Map from the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee (IGBC) website.

Approved Storage

A bear resistant container that has been approved by and listed by the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee. Most bear-resistant containers sold in local outdoor retail stores meet these requirements.

Stored in a bear resistant manner means hung 10 feet off the ground and four feet horizontally from a tree or other structure; stored in a hard-sided camper; vehicle trunk, or cab or trailer cab: in a hard-sided building, or stored using an electric fence.

Wildlife Carcasses

Carcasses that are within a half-mile of any camp or sleeping area must be stored in an approved bear-proof manner during nighttime hours. If a carcass is within an attended camp during daylight hours it may be on the ground.

Burning Attractants

Attractants are things like leftover food, bacon grease, etc. They cannot be buried, burned in an open campfire, or left behind in camp. All attractants must be stored in a sealed container and packed out with garbage – or placed in a container and burned so that the contents do not leach into the ground.

Store Your Food!

Store your food and attractants, livestock food and garbage in a bear-resistant manner or use a bear-resistant container.

Illustration of food hanging from a branchIllustration of food storage containers

Attractants such as leftover food, bacon grease, etc.

Any harvested animal carcasses, including fish, birds, or other animal parts that are within a half-mile of any camping or sleeping area must be stored. If an animal carcass is within an attended camp during daylight hours it may be on the ground.

Additional resources on bear-resistant containers: