Burglars looted the late grizzly researcher Chuck Jonkel’s Missoula home twice last week, stealing not only historic bear memorabilia but current wildlife research files.
Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks bear manager Jamie Jonkel, Chuck Jonkel’s son, discovered the break-in on Monday at the home near the base of Mount Sentinel. The thieves had apparently spent hours rooting around in the house, taking the senior Jonkel’s collections of bear pins and jewelry, rare coins and stamps, spotting scopes, and other personal items. They also took several things belonging to Jamie Jonkel, including his FWP work computer and a sack full of thumb-drives loaded with photos and videos of grizzly management activity.
“They went through Chuck’s collection of can openers with bears on them,” Jamie Jonkel said. “He loved anything that had to do with bears.”
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Jonkel tried to seal up the house after reporting the burglary to the police. On Tuesday after filing lists of missing items and closing vulnerable bank accounts, he returned to discover thieves had entered a second time and taken more things, including his father’s straight razor collection.
“I think they might have been there when I drove up,” Jonkel said.
While most of the items appeared to be chosen for quick resale and portability, Jonkel said much of it had irreplaceable historic value. Chuck Jonkel died in 2016, and Jamie had been organizing much of his father’s research materials and memorabilia from a foundational career in bear studies. That included the Border Grizzly Project, which Chuck Jonkel led shortly after grizzly bears received Endangered Species Act protection in 1975 and no one knew clearly how many of the big bears were left in the Continental United States.
Chuck Jonkel was also a founder of the Missoula International Wildlife Film Festival and helped start the Environmental Studies program at the University of Montana. Jamie Jonkel has been a prominent figure in current grizzly research and management, including efforts to bear-proof Missoula neighborhoods as wildlife incidents rise.
Missoula Police spokeswoman Lydia Arnold said the case was under investigation and no arrests had been made as of Friday.