Expansion of housing into relatively intact areas is becoming the single most important threat to wildlife conservation in the US. This ex-urban development brings people and large, potentially dangerous wildlife, like grizzly bears, wolves, mountain lions, elk and moose into repeated and, at times uncomfortable, closeness. In Montana, Big Sky is a popular, rapidly growing, mountain community of second homes and full-time residents that are drawn to this area for its recreational opportunities as well as its scenic beauty. However, when people want to enjoy seeing wildlife, they also need to take actions to live responsibly with wildlife.
Recently WCS was asked to help Big Sky solve a worrying increase in bear conflicts with residents. Working with a small group of local leaders as well as representatives from state and federal wildlife agencies, WCS helped facilitate and coordinate a Bear Smart Council to significantly reduce bear access to food waste in garbage. This required building local awareness on how to live and recreate safely in bear country, and putting in place laws and incentives to encourage families to adopt bear safe practices.
WCS and the Bear Smart Council was able to convince the resort trash management company, Republic Services, to spend its funds to provide Big Sky residents with bear-resistant trash cans. Use of bear-resistant trash cans quickly increased from 20-60% of Big Sky residents, with the number expected to rise to 100% in 18 months.