The recent death of Leah Lokan from a grizzly bear mauling while camping in Ovando, MT on July 6th has reinforced the need to maintain and enhance efforts to protect human safety and to prevent conflicts with grizzly bears in our communities. We are deeply saddened by this tragedy and the Blackfoot Challenge Board of Directors and staff offer our sincerest condolences to Leah Lokan’s family, friends, and loved ones. We also want to thank the first responders and the community of Ovando for their professional and rapid response to this unfortunate incident.
While this type of incident is extremely rare, it is a stark reminder that living, working, and recreating safely in bear country takes a commitment by all of us to use precautions due to the inherent risk of living with bears.
Over the past twenty years, the Blackfoot Challenge and our partners have worked hard to reduce and prevent human-bear conflicts through a variety of efforts including electric fencing of calving areas and residences, livestock carcass removal, securing trash and livestock feed, fencing rural transfer sites, and through bear aware outreach and education efforts. However, there is always more work to be done, as this incident has shown us.
The Blackfoot Challenge’s Wildlife Committee is responding to this incident by working with community members and state and federal wildlife managers to help prevent this type of incident in the future. As immediate first steps, we will be providing three food storage lockers for Ovando so that campers can securely store their food away from their tents and sleeping areas. We have also provided four temporary electric net fences for campsites in Ovando. Additionally, we are working with local residents to contain two chicken coops with electric fences, have purchased sixteen bear-resistant trash cans that can be checked out, and have been providing bear spray to recreationists and community members.
We have been in close contact with Ovando business owners and residents and are seeking new funding to assist the community as we work together to develop a long-term plan to implement additional safeguards for the area. As we develop our longer-term effort we will be working through our community process to listen and learn how we can collectively work together to find solutions that make the most sense for our communities so that we can live safely with grizzly bears.