A black bear that was shot and killed early Tuesday morning after tearing down a tent near Bull Lake in Lincoln County is likely the same bear a woman found standing on her kitchen table a week earlier.
Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks grizzly bear management specialist Kim Annis said researchers are checking the bear’s DNA to ensure it’s a match.
The bear was shot by a deputy who had responded to a call for help from people staying in a nearby cabin on June 26. They had been awakened shortly before 5 a.m. to find two black bears — one that was colored brown — ripping through a tent that they believed four people were staying inside.
The people at the cabin yelled at the bears, but after the animals didn’t flee, they sought help.
The deputy killed the black bear and the other bear eventually left the scene.
As it turned out, there was no one inside the tent. Unbeknownst to the people in the nearby cabin, the four people who had started the night in the tent had opted to leave at about midnight to return to their home in Libby after they noticed bears moving about.
In what little morning light they had, the people at the cabin believed they could see blood and called to report what they thought was a bear attack.
FWP's Wildlife Human Attack Response Team leader Brian Sommers said the two adults and two children inside the tent made the right choice to leave after they first spotted the bears.
"When you think of what might have happened if they had decided to go back to bed, it makes you cringe," Sommers said. "This could have been much, much worse."
Sommers said investigators found only a small amount of food inside the tent following the attack. Some of the items from the yard had been picked up by the people in the cabin before they arrived on the scene.
"So we have no idea of what could have been there as far as attractants," he said. "It could have been removed before we got there ... We do know these bears had been working the beachfront going from cabin to cabin."
Almost a week before, Annis said a black bear had pushed its way through a screened window at a cabin on Bull Lake in the middle of the night. The woman inside heard the noise and got out of bed to find the bear standing on her kitchen table.
“It left fairly quickly in the same way it had come in,” Annis said.
Before the bear was killed, Annis said FWP hadn’t received any reports of unusual bear activity in the area. Since then, several cabin owners have called to report that a black bear had been on their porches or pushing on window screens.
Somewhere along the way, that bear had learned that it could find food around places where people live.
“Bears don’t just suddenly start breaking into people’s homes,” Annis said. “It had been positively rewarded by finding something to eat around a cabin and decided that was excellent, it was going to find more.”
Problem bears don’t create themselves, Annis said. People create them by giving them that first opportunity to discover there are easy calories to be had at places where humans live.
“Bears are a walking stomach,” Annis said. “If they don’t find any food around a home, they will walk right on by. If they do find something to eat, they will stay and remember that for life.”
In a separate case earlier this week, two young grizzly bears were captured about 10 miles northwest of Whitefish along the Stillwater River.
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The 2.5-year-old sibling bears were trapped after a landowner reported the bears were attempting to get into a dog kennel to get at some dog food.
A few days earlier, a neighbor to the south of that residence reported that bears had killed some chickens on their property. Those landowners believed black bears were at fault, not grizzlies.
The scat of those bears was filled with sunflower seeds, which indicates that they were getting access to bird feeders in the area.
Traps were set at both locations. The two grizzly bears were the only ones captured.
The two bears were a male and female that had probably been left in the area after their mother went off to breed. Grizzly bears typically kick off their two-year-old cubs during June, which is the peak of breeding season.
The two bears were moved to different locations. The female went to the upper Good Creek drainage in the Salish Range. The male was released in the Deep Creek area along the east side of Hungry Horse Reservoir. Both were fitted with GPS collars so their movements can be tracked.
Annis said it’s not usual for sub-adult bears to move around a lot this time of year in search of food while doing their best to stay away from adult bears during the breeding season.
The other brown-colored bear involved in the tent wrecking episode at Bull Lake is likely a female, Annis said.
A trap was placed at the cabin in attempt to capture her, but that effort hasn’t been successful. A smaller sub-adult male bear was captured and relocated.
At the landowner’s request, the trap will be pulled before the holiday weekend.
“We haven’t had any other reports of other incidents,” Annis said. “I think people are pretty aware. We would have heard if something else had happened.”
Annis encouraged people living in bear country to do everything they can to keep attractants out of a bear’s reach.
“A lot of folks don’t know that a bird feeder will attract a bear,” she said. “Even it’s just one mouthful, it’s a lot easier calories than they can find looking around in the woods.”
Bears will eat anything that a bird, dog, cat or a livestock will eat.
“They are omnivores,” she said. “There’s no limit to what they will taste test. I’ve seen them eat grass seed or fertilizer or even dirt that has fertilizer on it.”
Just like people living in the woods need to protect their homes from wildfire, folks living in bear country need to do their part from turning a wild bear into a problem bear.
“We can’t unteach a bear that’s found food in place where people live,” she said. “We can make sure that they never get that food reward again.”
Annis is a big advocate of using electric fencing to keep bears at bay.
For information on electric fencing and living in bear country: http://fwp.mt.gov/fishAndWildlife/livingWithWildlife/beBearAware/default.html