Bears have started showing up all over social media this spring, and at least one has its own laptop.
Whitefish resident Mike Potter caught a cinnamon-phase black bear on video near Arlee with a computer in its mouth as it grazed along U.S. Highway 93 on Sunday. Apparently awakened early when its culvert den flooded in the early snowmelt, the big male has become something of a roadside hazard.
“He would come up and go down like a magic show,” Potter said. “I’ve lived in Montana all my life, and these moments still impress me.”
Video courtesy of Mike Potter of Whitefish. Potter spotted this mature black bear with what appears to be a laptop in its mouth near Arlee on March 26, 2017.
The bear also caught the attention of Confederated Salish and Kootenai tribal wildlife biologist Stacy Courville, who set a culvert trap for it soon after it appeared about three weeks ago.
“When it gets nice out, he pops up and starts grazing on grass,” Courville said. “He’s causing bear jams when he’s out, and we’re afraid he’s going to get hit by a car. But he’s not interested in the bait at all. We’ve had the trap out for two weeks and nothing.”
Both black and grizzly bears have started leaving their dens as spring weather has taken hold in western Montana. After a long winter hibernation, their digestive tracts have virtually stopped working. Although both species are meat-eaters, they typically seek out new grass and other vegetation to get their systems moving again.
That’s important for homeowners near the forest to consider. Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks officials warn that both bears and mountain lions will follow deer and elk as they move to the valley bottoms in search of new grass.
“By April 1st, residents should take down bird feeders, secure garbage inside a closed garage or secure shed, feed pets inside, clean up chicken and livestock feed, and in general remove all odorous substances that can draw bears,” FWP spokesman John Fraley said. “Instead of putting out hummingbird feeders we recommend putting up hanging baskets of flowers. In Montana, it is illegal to intentionally feed ungulates, mountain lions and bears. This includes putting out grain, deer blocks, mineral blocks, sunflower seeds, garbage, meat scraps, bread, doughnuts, brownies and other food.”
Bears can live for years near people without ever getting in conflict, but an introduction to human food almost always means tragedy. Predators habituated to human food may lose their natural fear of humans and often have to be killed.
FWP wildlife specialist Jamie Jonkel added that early spring tends to see increases in mountain lion activity at the edge of cities and towns. Residents in Missoula’s Grant Creek and Rattlesnake neighborhoods had several lion incidents over the winter, including the removal of at least seven adult or subadult lions.
“With the snow melted off, people aren’t seeing the lion tracks as much,” Jonkel said. “But Missoula Valley is a mountain lion factory, like Swan Valley. It’s both primo lion habitat and primo big-game habitat, so we see a lot more hands-on interaction between all the species. Throw our own behaviors into the mix, and it always gets interesting.”