"Bear-ly" Getting By: Bears in Cars

Kieran Lindsey

Kieran Lindsey | Nov 10, 2015

Drought and fires out West have resulted in a skimpy berry and acorn crop. Less available food means bears must forage longer and over a wider range to gain enough weight to enter hibernation. Consequently, the number of bear-vehicle collisions appears to be on the rise.

Montana bears, in particular, are not happy campers these days. Based on a string of recent news reports they’re finding creative ways to vent their frustrations.

Recently, bears (or perhaps a single bear) near the Yellowstone Bighorn Research Association (YBRA) lodge, south of Red Lodge, went on a vandalism spree.  Having learned how to open car doors, it (or they) entered vehicles and removed the consoles.  Motorcycle saddlebags were torn open like bags of chips.

Things got a bit more hairy when Ellen Stolpe of Pittsburgh, PA, stopped at the YBRA for a bio-break. Lured by the aroma of past fast-food meals a black bear opened the door and began searching for snacks.

The door slammed shut.

Interior remodeling while you wait. (Greg Creasy)

When the interior proved less roomy than expected, a quick remodeling of console, doors, upholstery, and headliner ensued. Goldilock's sudden reappearance startled the bear into a hasty exit out the windshield, but not before dropping an aromatic pile of its own past meals on the floor.

Stolpe said later there wasn’t much she could do but laugh, adding, “I guess it’s part of the Montana experience to get claw marks on the dashboard.”

"Welcome to Montana!" (Greg Creasy)

Quasi-Handy Bear Country Travel Hints

Bears are large, strong animals, and they’re smart enough to recognize ice chests and coolers.  They have a keen sense of smell that can detect even plastic-wrapped food from as far as three miles away.  In areas where bears have frequent access to parked cars it doesn’t take long before the local Yogi and Boo Boo posse figure out how to open promising pic-a-nic baskets disguised as automobiles—even if access requires ripping windows out of car doors and prying open locked trunks.

I guess it should go without saying (but I’ll say it anyway)—there’s no 100-percent guaranteed method for protecting your car from a hungry bear. But there are steps you can take to make your vehicle less tantalizing than the one parked next to you.

  • Remove all food or food-scented items, including:
    • Infant and child seats—a treasure trove of forgotten Cheerios, granola bars, string cheese, spilled juice, and their lingering scents.
    • Sunscreens—think coconuts or bananas.
    • Lotions, cosmetics, and baby wipes—minty, fruity, flowery temptations.
    • Soft drinks, energy drinks, mocha lattes, and the fragrant cans and cups that held them.
    • Empty food wrappers—your pitiful human nose can’t detect the scrumptious snacks they once embraced, but the ursine snoot can.
  • Don’t forget to check the glove box, center console, and trunk.
  • Leave the minivan at home—the favorite target of bears break-ins (see the aforementioned correlation between children and food).
  • Before you head for bear country, check to see if your insurance policy covers damage by a wild animal.
Coolers are not bear proof. And neither is your car. (Padraic, Flickr)

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