Food and garbage abandoned at a campsite in Mineral County likely attracted a black bear that bit a Washington man on the head early Monday, according to Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks.
Rob Holmes, of Ellensburg, Wash., required 21 stitches on his earlobe after the bear bit him through his tent around 4:30 a.m., as he and a friend slept up Little Joe Road just southwest of St. Regis.
Holmes' injuries were not life-threatening, and he and his friend had left for home by Monday afternoon.
After the bear bit Holmes, the man screamed. He then grabbed a flashlight and tried to follow it before driving to a Missoula hospital.
"It reacted to people, which is good," said Mack Long, FWP regional supervisor. "But the downside is that once it is habituated, it's almost impossible to change."
Holmes kept a clean camp, Long said, but other campers left behind food and other attractants at the U.S. Forest Service campground, which is "primitive" and not a sanctioned campground.
"He did everything right," said Jeff Darrah, FWP warden captain in Missoula.
The FWP is currently attempting to track down the bear, which will be euthanized once it's found. In the meantime, the camping area is closed until further notice.
FWP officials said the radius and patterns of the bite marks on Holmes and in his tent were identical to those found on cans of food and other items at the nearby abandoned campsite.
It is unknown how long that campsite had been abandoned, but the bear likely had visited the site for at least a couple of nights, said Long. It likely was a temporary campsite for transients, he said.
Long put all blame on the campers who abandoned their site and left food and other items behind. He said "attack" is not the correct word for the incident, which will unfortunately lead to a dead bear.
Long said he believes it is the only reported case of a human injury caused by a bear in western Montana this year.
The message is clear, he stressed: Don't leave food and other attractants open at a campsite, and never leave food behind.
Reporter Jamie Kelly can be reached at 523-5254 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.