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Teton County is reminding residents about the region’s new rules

Public Domain / Jean Beaufort
Public Domain / Jean Beaufort
Public Domain / Jean Beaufort

Bears are making their way into Jackson Hole to forage for berries as they get ready to hibernate. Grand Teton National Park is advising people to be cautious on roadways.

Cole Stewart with Bear Wise Jackson Hole has been helping lead the charge to keep people informed about the region's new rules around keeping properties bear safe. This includes having bear resistant trash cans in many parts of Teton County. He recently spoke with Jackson Hole Community Radio's Hanna Merzbach about keeping locals and bears safe. And part of this means moving bird feeders.

Editor's note: This transcript has been lightly edited for brevity and clarity.

Cole Stewart: So people are not hanging those bird feeders so they're inaccessible to bears. Essentially, that means if it's going to be inaccessible, it needs to be 10 feet off the ground, and four feet from any supporting structure, including the limb that it's hanging from. A lot of people don't have a tree that works very well for that in their yard. So that often leads to bears getting into them.

Hanna Merzbach: I'm wondering what kinds of misconceptions you hear from long term residents who've been living in bear country for a long time, but may still not know about things like bird feeders?

CS: So there was a female black bear and two cubs that were recently relocated by Game and Fish. That was because she had accessed birdseed and probably some trash as well. And I think that really speaks to some of the misconceptions that we see throughout the community that bears aren't necessarily out in the middle of the valley. And that just is completely contrary to that. Essentially, bears can be in your yard, accessing your bird seed or your garbage regardless of where you're at in Teton County.

HM: What should people be looking out for in the coming weeks? I know bears are bulking up for winter right now.

CS: This year there have been really mixed reports on the berry crop. I've heard you know anything from, like, in some places, it's really great. And in other places, it's not very good. I think that's pretty typical. And if conditions are just right for one species of plant that produces berries, it may not be perfect for another. And given the moisture that we've had this year, it just hasn't worked out well for some species. So we may notice that bears start to key in on food sources that are in more residential areas. Those could be crabapple trees and things like that.

So really, the most important thing right now, I think, is to have people be aware that bears could be coming into their neighborhoods focusing on their crabapple trees or other fruit bearing trees that they may have. And both the Teton County and Town of Jackson regulations prohibit those from being accessible to bears.

So as those fruits ripen, residents are actually required to either harvest those or rake them up and remove those from the property so bears aren't attracted to those areas. That's the one thing I would really focus on.

The other one is that just because we have bear resistant trash cans very widespread within the county, doesn't mean that everybody's using them properly. As I've been out in the neighborhoods a lot lately, I've seen that some of those bear resistant trash cans are snow cones - that’s what we call it. And that means when they're overfilled with garbage, so you'll see that the top isn't latched properly. There's also some trash cans in the community that are a little bit older and starting to age out, especially in areas like Teton Pines and Teton Village. Some of those are going to need to be replaced really soon, especially if the latches aren't working properly.

HM: Is there anything else we should be thinking about right now; anything else you want to add?

CS: One of the biggest issues is that historically, there may not have been as high of bear densities as there are currently, especially in terms of grizzly bears. Historically, the grizzly bear population was much smaller and was kind of restricted to maybe the northern portions of Grand Teton National Park, and Yellowstone National Park. Now we have these bears, the population is probably over 1,000 bears and they're expanding into some of their historic range, so down south of Jackson and areas like the Wyoming range and like that. And so what that leads to is bears may not necessarily want to occupy these developed areas, but they need to pass through them to get from point A to point B. And obviously, if there's attractants, like bird feeders, or garbage, or compost, or even fruit bearing trees, like crabapples, that can stop the bears on their movements through and result in conflicts, which can lead to bears being either relocated or euthanized. Which is a last resort but unfortunately happens too often.

Hanna is the Mountain West News Bureau reporter based in Teton County.

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