Game wardens are scrambling in and around Missoula trying to keep black bears out of bird feeders and garbage.

"We kept thinking things would slow down, but they have picked up," Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks bear management officer Jamie Jonkel said on Wednesday. "We're getting barraged with bird feeder problems."

Jonkel and his bear-management colleagues have averaged 30 calls a day for bruin problems, and have trapped at least 20 in the past two weeks. Several of those have had to be killed for persistent scavenging.

"We're talking only the ones that are entering houses and pulling garbage cans out of kitchens," Jonkel said. "There's so much garbage out there, it's turning into a free-for-all."

FWP spokeswoman Vivica Crowser said the winter's low snowpack combined with late-spring rains resulted in poor food supplies at higher elevations, but rich pickings in valley bottoms. Bears eat a lot of grass, and they learn quickly that irrigated lawns often also hold unprotected bird feeders and garbage cans.

Areas with automated garbage pick-up have also been bear targets because most of the new garbage cans are not bear-proof, Jonkel said. People who leave them out overnight or at unattended central locations are almost guaranteeing a long-term bear problem, he said. That includes much of the Bitterroot Valley as well as the rural areas east and west of Missoula.

While black bears are typically shy around humans, those accustomed to garbage or bird feed can act aggressively in claiming their meal. While game wardens will try to relocate problem bears, Jonkel said a better tactic is to take down bird feeders and securely store garbage until its ready to be picked up.

For more information or to report bear problems, call the Missoula FWP office at 542-5500

Reporter Rob Chaney can be reached at 523-5382 or at rchaney@missoulian.com.


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