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Great Bear Foundation: Keeping Bears Alive

With help from a Y2Y partner grant, GBF’s Bears & Apples program has reduced conflicts between humans and bears, and enhanced their co-existence.

Courtesy of Great Bear Foundation

It was late in the afternoon on a crisp early October day and the sun had just started to set. We were at one of the last apple trees to be picked in Missoula, MT through the Great Bear Foundation’s (GBF) Bears & Apples program–partially funded by a Y2Y Partner Grant—when one of the volunteers yelled out, “We have scat!” Sure enough, next to the volunteers feet lay a massive pile of black bear excrement.

As a few of the youngest volunteers collected the scattered apples, another volunteer found strands of dark bear hair caught on a branch—more evidence of the previous night’s visitor. The bear had been feeding on the convenient and energy rich apples to prepare for hibernation.

Volunteers picking fruit. Photo: UM Wildlife Society.

Reducing Bear Attractants

While a hungry bear munching on your backyard fruit may sound like an amusing story to tell your city-dwelling family, it is far from an amusing situation for the bear.

Bears are creatures of habit and they can quickly become accustomed to human-related food, which spells a certain death for many bears. The first time a bear is caught in a residential area feeding on apples, its ear is tagged and the bear is relocated. The second time it’s caught near humans, the bear is euthanized.

Missoula was once an important apple-producing region. Old yet still plentifully producing apple trees dotting nearly every neighborhood. For this reason, the Bears & Apples program and its many avid volunteers work tirelessly to glean fruit to keep bears away from these areas.

The program’s volunteers, ranging from university students to locals families, are all eager to help bears and receive some free fruit in the process. The area is so bountiful in fruit that by the end of the season, the program’s volunteers have picked hundreds of apple, pear, and plum trees, along with the occasional grape vine. Most of the fruit is sent home with volunteers.

Jams, Jellies and Cider – Oh My!

Making cider. Photo: UM Wildlife Society.
Resourceful Missoulians prepare jams, jellies, fruit leather, and an infinite variety of baked goods. Some even press apple and pear cider with a cider press. Gallons of cider is ready to enjoy by the end of the season!

The remaining fruit is sent to the local food banks or homeless shelters. Fruit that is too badly bruised or deemed not fit for human consumption is composed at the Great Bear Foundation office, which is guarded by an electric fence to keep wildlife out. Fruit is never wasted in the Bears & Apples program.

The 2013 apple season was the program’s 13th year running and it seems to grow in popularity each year. Not only is this work a great reason to get outside and work with the community, it is also a great way to spread the message about keeping bears and humans safe.

GBF’s Bears & Apples program received a Y2Y Partner Grant three years in a row, from 2011 to 2013. The diligent work of the Bears & Apples staff and volunteers is key to reducing conflicts between humans and bears, and enhancing their co-existence. We thank them and the residents who participate in the program for their work to help keep bears alive and humans safe!

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