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Grizzly Gives It an 'A'!

Bear sightings were a regular occurrence for the students at the Anaconda Job Corps Center, located roughly halfway between the Greater Yellowstone and the Northern Continental Divide ecosystems.

Photo: Kent Nelson
Photo: Kent Nelson
With a long history of black bear conflicts at the Anaconda Job Corps and with grizzlies making their way to the area, the community of Georgetown Lake, the Anaconda Job Corps, US Forest Service, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks (FWP), and Defenders of Wildlife, Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative’s (Y2Y) long-time partner, wanted to curb the problem before it escalated.

“One of our main focuses here at Defenders is to assist communities with tools and support to minimize conflicts with wildlife, whether they occur on a ranch, near homes, campgrounds or at a school,” explains Erin Edge, Defenders’ Rockies and Plains Associate. “Due to the Job Corps’ history of bear-human conflicts and their commitment to end those conflicts, this site was one of the first we wanted to address near Georgetown Lake, MT.”

Finding Solutions

Under the encouragement of FWP bear management specialist, James Jonkel, students found a solution to their bear problem and built a garage-sized, three-bay shed to dispense cafeteria waste.

Job Corps Garbage Shed
Student-built Job Corps garbage shed that helped reduce the number of unwanted bears from rummaging through their waste. Photo courtesy of Defenders of Wildlife

The project was such a success that Jonkel gave them another challenge; build a bear-resistant garbage container that could withstand 60-minutes of direct bear-on-container action from America’s most notorious ‘can-crackers’ – the bears of Yellowstone Grizzly & Wolf Discovery Center.

Six students accepted the challenge.  Defenders of Wildlife and Fish, Wildlife and Parks offered to support them.


A Grizzly Examiner

The grizzly examiners included bears like Spirit, a trash-loving menace from Whitefish, as well as Kobuk the Destroyer, a 650-pound Alaskan brown bear and his buddy Sam, who weighs in at 1,000 pounds!

These bears test between 30-40 containers per year. They can put their claws in finger latches. They can unscrew caps. They’ve even tipped over the concrete slab holding the container for a better crushing angle! It isn’t hard to imagine that they usually succeed.

After two rounds of design changes, the welding team came up with a can and holster device that they were confident could stand up to the burliest of bears.

Job Corps Students With Holster
Job Corps students who built the holster to protect plastic waste bins from grizzlies. Photo courtesy of Defenders of Wildlife

The Exam

With Discover Center visitors watching the event, two bears furiously attempted to get to the food prize that was inside this student-built device.  Would the spindle-legged barbecue with its steel lid and tube framing, and its locking carabineer latch be enough to keep out these grizzlies?

After 50-minutes of gnawing, squeezing, twisting and reefing by Kobuk a panel was torn, but the can was not cracked. Then Kobuk’s buddy Sam sauntered over to finish the test, bench pressing the can and holster with all his might. The 1,000 pound force bent the device but the can held up. It passed the test!

“This project was really special for Defenders. Not only did students outsmart and out-power these furry examiners, but Discovery Center visitors observed the test with their own eyes,” explains Edge. “It’s an experience that will stay with them for a lifetime.”


The bear-proof containers are currently in production. It is expected that between 45-50 holsters will be given to Fish, Wildlife and Parks to distribute to other hotspots in the Georgetown Lake area. Defenders of Wildlife will also continue to be involved in the project.

Living With Wildlife

Y2Y has been working with Defenders of Wildlife for many years to reduce human-wildlife conflict in the Cabinet-Purcell Mountain Corridor.

“We are very happy to support the great work done by Defenders,” explains Wendy Francis, Y2Y Program Director. “From developing bear-resistant containers to their highly successful electric fencing program that keeps livestock safe from predators, they make it easier for people to live with rather than fight against nature.”

Electric Fencing
Russ Talmo putting up electric fencing for a farmer. Defenders of Wildlife has an electric fencing program in which they reimburse those in the program half of the cost of the fence, up to $500. In 2010 six fences were installed. Last year the number grew to 40! Photo courtesy of Defenders of Wildlife

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