The abundant apple and pear crops in Missoula are continuing to draw black bears into close encounters with the public, and while most of the bruins are behaving themselves, one was euthanized last weekend after becoming too habituated to humans.
“We have better apples this year than we’ve seen for a long time, so all the activity we are seeing involves the exceptional apple and pear crop,” said Jamie Jonkel, a bear specialist for Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks. “Even our wild apple trees up the Rattlesnake and Blackfoot have good apples, so I think we’re seeing bears coming in for the apple gravy train.”
The black bear that was put down had recently cruised the hallways of Mountainwood Estates near Greenough Park, walked into a person’s open garage and climbed on a man’s porch — while he was sitting there — then tried to follow him inside.
“The bear followed him right to the door, so (the man) came to another door and tapped on the window trying to scare it away, but the bear came to that door trying to get in and that kind of freaked him out,” Jonkel said on Tuesday. “The bear was coming to the door for a handout; he wasn’t trying to get in the house, but someone had been feeding him. We have the usual suspects and are visiting with folks.
“The guy was like ‘I see bears all the time, and it’s no big deal, but this (bear) scares me.’”
FWP set a trap to catch that bear.
They’ve also removed and relocated three bears from the Rattlesnake during the past few days after at least one broke through a dog door, making it quite a bit bigger, and tried to raid the freezer inside.
“That one was a little confusing,” Jonkel said. “We didn’t get any one bear on video, but we set a trap and caught one bear. While he was in the trap another bear came to the house.”
They relocated the bear in the trap, then returned and trapped and relocated two more bears at that same house, then installed an electric fence as a deterrent.
Jonkel said since FWP employees dealing with the bears weren’t sure which one tore apart the dog door, they weren’t comfortable putting down any of the three suspects.
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A black bear also was reported at Providence St. Patrick on Saturday and became agitated as a crowd of people cornered it while the bear was trying to get back to the river, Jonkel said. Eventually, the bear climbed a tree and the crowd dissipated. The bear was gone the next day.
Single bears also were reported on the west end of the University of Montana golf course, in the Moose Can Gully area and near Alliance Church in recent days.
Jonkel asked people to stay away from the treed bears, who climb them to rest before coming down to feed at night. As always, he asked that people pick any fruit from trees, including those that have fallen to the ground, and to keep garbage and dog food secured in garages.
Overall, Jonkel said the black bears roaming around Missoula are behaving themselves as they consume as many calories as possible before they start hibernating. They typically go to their dens in mid-November.
That robust food source cut down significantly on the number of orphan cubs that were taken to the Montana Wild rehabilitation center in Helena. Jonkel said he hasn’t had to take any orphans to the shelter, and Laurie Wolf, the FWP education bureau chief, said they only have two cubs that probably will be released into the wild in November.
That’s a remarkable change since 2015, when an unusually warm spring and hot, dry summer prompted bears to drop into western Montana’s valleys to forage in places where the sows are more susceptible to being killed. The rehabilitation center’s population rose to around 30 cubs that year.
“We have been really lucky this year because of the good berry crop,” Wolf said. “We have taken in only two cubs this summer.”
Jonkel reminds parents that black bears become more active at night, and they should take a few precautions as trick-or-treaters go out on Halloween.
“We have a lot of bears in the Missoula area, especially in the Rattlesnake,” Jonkel said. “Parents need to chaperone their kids, and don’t be going through the middle of Greenough Park or take dark shortcuts. And if you know a residence has apples on the ground, know that there are probably bears there.”