A black bear that came knocking forcefully at Missoula International Airport doors early Wednesday was treed, tranquilized and removed to a more ursine-friendly environment.
"Apparently he was looking to fly south for the winter as opposed to hibernating," airport director Cris Jensen speculated.
Jensen said Wednesday afternoon he learned of the incident via a text message in the middle of the night and hadn't yet heard all the details. As he understood it, a security guard or someone from the custodial staff at the otherwise empty terminal spotted it near the entrance and turned off the automatic doors to prevent easy entry.
But the bear seemed determined to get inside.
"It sounds like he did run into the glass a couple of times trying to come in," Jensen said.
Attempts were made to shoo the animal away. The bear fled to the east end of the terminal and scrambled up a tree in the rental car parking area.
Jamie Jonkel, bear management specialist for the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, said the call came in from the airport at about 2:30 a.m. The department's Bob Weisner responded, and after darting the bear, found the large wolf trap he'd brought was barely big enough.
With the help of airport security guards, the bear was loaded into the steel box and transported to the FWP office on Spurgin Road. There it was transferred to a bigger culvert box and ear-tagged. An intern relocated it to a remote spot in the Lolo Pass area later in the morning.
Jonkel said he's pretty sure he knows the bear. It's one that's tried to get from Grant Creek down to the Clark Fork River a few times lately.
"That's a tough one," said Jonkel. "They've got to go under the interstate first off, and then they hit all those hotels (on Reserve Street). I believe this is the same bear that keeps getting hung up in those fields with all that traffic."
Sightings of the bear have been reported among the hotels and in various fields and tree groves between Grant Creek and the river.
"There's really no corridor movement through that area. It's pretty fractured with streets and subdivisions. Every year we watch some poor bear or lion or some other creature trying to get through to the river - and then 90 percent of time, after being in the river for a couple of weeks, they try to come back to Grant Creek and they've got to run the gauntlet again," Jonkel said.
He suspects this one took a wrong turn when it encountered the airport fence, which "blocks quite a bit of country."
Still, this bear is one of the lucky ones.
"Right now we're in what we call the fall shuffle," Jonkel said. "We have a lot of bears moving, trying to get to different food sources. Just the last two days we've had three or bears road-killed in and around the Missoula area."