MISSOULA, Mont. -

It's time to be prepared if you're planning to get outside and enjoy the nice weather this week because you could encounter a bear.  Both grizzly and black bears are making appearances throughout Montana this time of year.

Erin Edge is a representative from Defenders of Wildlife and said male bears come out of hibernation in March, while females and their young will start showing up sometime in May. 

She said, "You put your seat belt on when you go in your car.  You carry your bear spray when you go hiking in the woods in Montana."

Edge stated the bears will be moving down into the valleys in coming weeks looking for green grass and water.  She said Missoula is a kind of hub due to all the different waterways which flow into the valley.

Her advice for everyone this time of year is to just be very aware of your surroundings when you are out in the wilderness.  This means looking for fresh tracks, scat, and overturned logs, which can all signal bears in the area.

"It's not something to be afraid of.  It's something to be aware of.  Montana's unique in that we have so much wildlife remaining in our state.  I think it's something we should take pride in, but it's also something to be aware of," said Edge.

She also advised hikers and especially runners to leave their headphones at home so they can hear what's going on around them.

Bear spray, she said, is the best way to ward off bears and has proven to be very successful.

Edge also cautioned people out hiking with pets to make sure and keep them on a leash.

She said, "I know it's really hard for us when we're recreating in the backcountry to have our dog on a leash.  But dogs can bring animals back to you.  So just keep that in mind."

Bears often will also end up in neighborhoods this time of year because of the many attractants like bird feeders, garbage cans, and chicken coops.  Putting up an electric fence around these items can help keep bears away and there's a program to help offset the cost.

"Really it's just there to assist folks with their ability to keep their attractants on their property, but to make sure bears can't get into them," Edge said.

The electric fence incentive program is available throughout most of the counties in western Montana, however program organizers say funding is limited so they prioritize areas with a history of bear conflicts. If you would like more information on the program, click here.