By News Team
ISLAND PARK, Idaho (KIFI) – At West Yellowstone’s Grizzly & Wolf Discovery Center (GWDC), Grizzlies test containers by spending an hour or more attempting to break into them. On display are the damaged containers which have been smashed to pieces, ripped apart, or covered in claw and teeth marks. The containers the bears fail to get into are certified “bear resistant.”
Grizzly bear conflicts have increased dramatically in the Ashton-Island Park Ranger District and were at an all-time high in 2020 with 35 grizzly bear conflicts including two bear attacks. In the last few years two bears that got into trash had to be euthanized.
Randy Gravatt, who runs the product testing at GWDC, thought, why not get the tested containers to places where they could be used?
An estimated 50-70 grizzly bears spend some portion of their year in the Ashton-Island Park District which also supports a healthy black bear population.
Nicholson, the bear biologist, says the majority of human-bear conflicts are caused by bears seeking food, often in association with trash during tourist season.
Last summer, with financial support from Henrys Fork Wildlife Alliance, Gravatt along with Idaho Fish and Game bear biologist Jeremy Nicholson worked on a plan. Volunteer Becky Lewis, head of the Campground Bear Safety Program for the Ashton-Island Park Ranger District, facilitated the cooperation. Under the plan, several bear-tested trash containers will be placed at high priority locations in Island Park identified by the Department of Fish and Game.
The first containers were recently placed at Anglers Lodge and River Lodge in Last Chance.
“One of our highest priorities is safety for our guests and staff,” Manager Cory Inouye said. “Any opportunity to receive equipment making us more harmonious with our environment we will take advantage of. Anything we can do to be proactive is good for Island Park.”
There are many examples of how this type of container keeps bears out of trash and helps reduce conflicts with bears. In Seminole County, Florida, bear conflicts were reduced by 50% in just three years through the use of similar bear resistant containers in a program supported by homeowners, county commissioners, Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission, and backed up by a county ordinance requiring residents to secure their trash.
Jean Bjerke, President of HFWA, says the current program in Island Park with the GWDC containers is a first step. She hopes Island Park, Fremont County, local homeowners and Idaho Department of Fish and Game can work together successfully, like in Florida.