It wasn't that long ago that carrying bear spray was only a serious option if you were hiking in the backcountry of Glacier and Yellowstone National Parks. Or hunting deep into bear country near the parks.

Now, with Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks reporting grizzly sightings in places where the big bears haven't been seen in a century, it's time for everyone recreating, or ranching, to get familiar with the spray cans.

This week, FWP reported that grizzly bear numbers, and the country the bears are covering, are continuing to expand outside of the Greater Yellowstone and Northern Continental Divide Ecosystems. And that means the bears are ranging not only across additional mountain ranges across the state but far out into the "flat country" as well.

Grizzlies becoming widespread in Montana

About 15 years ago, one grizzly made headlines when he started causing problems far out into the plains east of Great Falls. He was captured, and released deep into the remote country on the North Fork of the Flathead, only to head right back onto the plains a few weeks later. At the time, that was remarkable. Now, it would be just one of several such sightings.

Image courtesy of Getty Images, WestwindPhoto
Image courtesy of Getty Images, WestwindPhoto
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In recent weeks, FWP staff have confirmed bear sightings in the North Hills and Grizzly Gulch area outside Helena, the Elkhorn Mountains near Clancey, near Umm, in the Pryor Mountains east of Billings, in the Shields Valley north of Livingston, the Little Belt Mountains, near the Judith River east of Denton and on the lower Dearborn River west of Great Falls.

That's where the precautions come in

"Vigilance is important for those who live and recreate in the outdoors,” said Quentin Kujala, chief of conservation policy for FWP. “This is a busy time of year for bears and our field staff are responding to calls in these particular areas and across the state.”

And those tips really fall under the category of being "bear aware".

FWP says property owners need to store garbage in bear-resistant cans, and keep from leaving food and other attractants out, including pet food, chicken feed, and BBQs. They should also consider electric fencing around fruit trees and gardens, and to secure livestock "whenever possible."

Bear spray plus

FWP says not only should hikers, campers, and hunters carry bear spray and know how to use it, but people should travel in groups, and plan to be back to their cars by dark. You should also avoid carcass sites, and watch for bear scat, diggings, torn-up logs, and other evidence a grizzly is nearby. You should also make noise, especially in thick forests and brush, to avoid encounters.

Above all, NEVER approach a bear.

For more information being bear aware, click here.

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