Garbage company pays to protect people and bears in Montana

Garbage company pays to protect people and bears in Montana


Garbage is hard for bears to resist. Where food waste is not secured, bears learn quickly to roam around housing developments in search of trash cans. This increases the risks of damage to cars and homes, forcing the costly relocation of “problem” bears. If people are chased or worse mauled this sadly results in the lethal removal of the animal. To avoid people-bear conflicts WCS convinced a local trash management company to invest $250,000 to supply bear-resistant trash cans to residents of Big Sky, one of the largest resort housing developments in Montana. This has started to reverse a decade long trend in bear conflicts, is increasing public safety and is removing the reason for killing grizzly and black bears that have a taste for trash.


Expansion of housing into relatively intact areas is becoming the single most important threat to wildlife conservation in the US. This ex-urban development brings people and large, potentially dangerous wildlife, like grizzly bears, wolves, mountain lions, elk and moose into repeated and, at times uncomfortable, closeness. In Montana, Big Sky is a popular, rapidly growing, mountain community of second homes and full-time residents that are drawn to this area for its recreational opportunities as well as its scenic beauty. However, when people want to enjoy seeing wildlife, they also need to take actions to live responsibly with wildlife.

Recently WCS was asked to help Big Sky solve a worrying increase in bear conflicts with residents. Working with a small group of local leaders as well as representatives from state and federal wildlife agencies, WCS helped facilitate and coordinate a Bear Smart Council to significantly reduce bear access to food waste in garbage. This required building local awareness on how to live and recreate safely in bear country, and putting in place laws and incentives to encourage families to adopt bear safe practices.

WCS and the Bear Smart Council was able to convince the resort trash management company, Republic Services, to spend its funds to provide Big Sky residents with bear-resistant trash cans. Use of bear-resistant trash cans quickly increased from 20-60% of Big Sky residents, with the number expected to rise to 100% in 18 months.


Saving Species IconSPECIES: Two decades of investment in grizzly bear recovery within Yellowstone National Park has seen bear numbers increase by 93% outside the park. If grizzly bears are to continue to thrive outside of national parks reducing people-bear conflicts is essential. Our conservation efforts in Big Sky are an important step to the co-existence of people and bears.

Effective Governance IconGOVERNANCE: The Bear Smart Council at Big Sky has proven to be a model for how diverse parties such as home owners, resort managers, state and federal agencies, municipalities, private sector companies, and conservation NGOs can come together to solve collective problems in ways that address their concerns and deliver desired outcomes for wildlife.


 PHOTO: Black bear getting a taste for garbage before bear trash cans are introduced by WCS.

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