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'High alert': Bears converge on Missoula fruit trees

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Missoula’s Rattlesnake neighborhood has a serious sloth of black bears rummaging about for any food the human residents have left unsecured this fall.

The group name for bears — which don’t often appear in groups — is a sloth.

And Missoula’s Rattlesnake neighborhood has a serious sloth of black bears rummaging about for any food the human residents have left unsecured this fall.

“I’m estimating 30 to 40 bears in the Rattlesnake,” Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks bear manager Jamie Jonkel said on Tuesday. “They’re getting into any available fruit, and sadly, a few of these bears are getting into garbage and bird feeders. We’re putting the whole Missoula area on high alert.”

Similar sloths of bears have been pillaging the Grant Creek, Bonner-Milltown, the University neighborhood, and the lower Bitterroot as they bulk up for hibernation — a process called hyperphagia. As the backcountry supplies of hawthorn and service berries have been consumed, the bears key in on apple and plum trees in the more residential valley bottoms, Jonkel said.

There they also find people’s bird feeders, compost bins, dog food, unsecured garbage and even wasp nests and ant hills hidden behind retaining walls or garage siding. Bears that successfully get human food will quickly make a habit of looking for more, and become public safety problems in the process.

One trio of black bears has made a routine of raiding alley garbage cans in the University neighborhood along the foot of Mount Sentinel for several days, then moving up the Kim Williams Trail to Bonner and Piltzville for the rest of the week, Jonkel said.

Outside the Missoula Valley, grizzly bears have also been active around alfalfa fields and campgrounds in the Seeley-Swan drainage and Ninemile area. Some archery hunters have lost elk carcasses to grizzlies, and other campers have found the food coolers they left outside their tents have been emptied, Jonkel said.

Bear activity will likely stay high through Halloween. Anyone with ungleaned fruit trees or unharvested garden patches is advised to complete that work and consider helping neighbors who may be having difficulty keeping the fruit off the ground.

For help finding volunteers to glean fruit, call the Great Bear Foundation at 406-829-9378 or the Missoula Bear Aware program at 406-239-2315.

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