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Black bear tranquilized near Missoula High School
A young male black bear crawls over a wire fence on the west side of Missoula on Wednesday. The bear, a 1- or 2-year-old, appeared confused and rambled through the neighborhood before being tranquilized and relocated.
Photo by TOM BAUER/Missoulian

Blue No. 13 might - might - get one more chance if the little black bear comes wandering through people's back yards again.

Most bears don't.

Residents in the vicinity of Community Medical Center and Big Sky High School found the bear drifting through the neighborhood Wednesday morning, and Bob Wiesner of the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks shot the 80- to 100-pound male - almost universally described by witnesses as "cute" - with a tranquilizer gun.

The bear, now tagged, will be relocated at least 50 miles from Missoula, in the hopes it won't come back.

Wiesner said because the bear has no record of human contact and because it is young, it might survive a second encounter with humans.

"Unless their first infraction is really bad, we try to give all bears a second chance," Wiesner said. Blue No. 13 - that's what his tag reads - might get two second chances.

That's because of his age, his lack of a record, and the possibility he wandered into Missoula by mistake, instead of in search of human-supplied food.

Going by the bear's teeth, Wiesner estimated No. 13's age to be 2 years old. But he said it was possible it was a 1-year-old cub.

"It could be that his mother just kicked him out because it's breeding season and she's got other things on her mind," Wiesner said. "It appeared this bear was confused, got over in an area with homes, and didn't know how to exit."

Missoula police officer Tom Stensatter, who was at the Fish, Wildlife and Parks offices in the same area on other business, heard FWP was getting reports of the bear.

At the even-closer Missoula Rural Fire District station at South Avenue and Reserve Street, a woman ran in to say a bear was nearby. The firemen became one of the calls to FWP, then headed out to see what they could find.

"I heard them say where it was over by (Fort Missoula)," Stensatter said, "so I thought I'd go look, maybe get it pointed back toward the river."

By the time he got there, 9-1-1 had received several calls reporting there was a bear in town, and "I was getting flagged down by a bunch of people who wanted to tell me they'd seen a bear," Stensatter said.

It was about the time Big Sky High School was letting out for lunch, and there was also a preschool in the area, Stensatter noted. Just to make things interesting, the bear kept crossing the border between the city and county, making the little fellow a jurisdictional juggling act.

Until Wiesner arrived.

Wiesner, who was in the middle of pulling the tooth of a deceased grizzly bear back at the office to gauge its age, was sent in search of the live bear. Hauling a portable bear trap behind him, 9-1-1 helped guide Wiesner to the animal.

"He was sort of moving around several back yards," Wiesner said. "He knew I was there, and then my presence started to bother him. He came at me, and I let him - I didn't want to shoot with him coming straight at me, because you don't want to hit the face or eyes - and about 30 yards away he turned."

Wiesner said he lost his shooting lane when the bear turned, but was able to move himself and get a shot at the bear's hip. Once hit with the dart, the bear scurried off but only went about 40 yards before lying down.

Wiesner shot him in the back yard of the Tom Roy Guidance Home at 2824 W. Central.

Wiesner, Stensatter and Missoula rural firefighter Mike Bowman carried the bear to the portable trap and loaded him up.

Last year, bear reports seemed to come in around the clock from May through October, Wiesner said, but Blue No. 13 was the first this year.

"I'm guessing because we had such a wet spring, they've found plenty of food naturally this year," Wiesner said. "And, hopefully, people have been good about securing their bear attractants."

Garbage, pet food and bird feeders are bears' favorites, and "once they start to associate humans with food, the bears up the ante," Wiesner said. "Suddenly, what people thought was cute turns into bears leaning on their screen doors and windows, and suddenly people want to redo what they've done wrong. But the bear can't unlearn what he's learned about people and food."

That's why on second offenses most bears are euthanized. Bird food has become a particular problem, Wiesner said. "They are to a bear, what a Snickers is to me," he explained.

Last year, a 200-pound bear roaming through Rattlesnake neighborhoods and pawing through garbage cans was trapped and moved more than 50 miles, Wiesner said, and was back in the Rattlesnake in less than 10 days.

"Running his trapline," Wiesner said. "He'd just go from one garbage can to the next on pickup day.

"Hunger is a powerful source in their lives," he went on. "A lot of people out there saw that bear today, and probably after we loaded it up that everything's fine now."

But most bears relocated after involvement with humans - 60 percent - return to places they shouldn't be, and end up dead, Wiesner said.

Reporter Vince Devlin can be reached at 523-5260 or at

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