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Bear put down by game warden after entering Missoula houses

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Black bear in the Rattlesnake

A female black bear sleeps with its tongue out high up in a Ponderosa Pine tree near Clark Fork School in Missoula's Rattlesnake neighborhood on Oct. 3, 2019.

A black bear that entered several homes in Missoula's Rattlesnake neighborhood had to be killed by game wardens over the weekend.

Jaime Jonkel, a wildlife management specialist with Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks, said attempts to trap the bear and relocate it failed.

The bear was showing signs that it was becoming more dangerous, so officials were left with no other option.

"He's been around awhile but he's never really gotten this bad before," Jonkel said. "In years past he's been more of a tree-rooster, a service berry-eater and once in a while he'd take advantage of some bozo's bird feeder or kick a (garbage) can or two."

However, the bear's behavior "escalated" about three weeks ago, Jonkel said.

"He shifted to daytime mode when people are more lax," Jonkel said. "He started entering garages and walking alleys in broad daylight."

He was spotted in and around the Bugbee Nature Preserve in the lower Rattlesnake.

"He went in a house," Jonkel said. "A gal had left her front door open to run errands, and when she came home something had gotten into food on the kitchen table. She saw him in the other room. He wasn't aggressive. He let her walk out and followed her out and carried on with the rest of his day."

But the rest of that afternoon and over the next five days, Jonkel got about 15 phone calls about the bear.

"He found out it was pretty easy just to walk into garages," Jonkel said. "He entered multiple garages. At one point he was real close to a lot of kids who were on bikes. He started approaching them from across the way. He was not showing any predatory behavior but he was definitely coming toward them."

Jonkel said wildlife managers draw the line when bears start coming around kids and entering homes.

"Sadly, we had to put him down," he said. "We had traps set. People think it's easy to trap. It's not that easy to dart and relocate a bear. A warden had just gotten a call about him breaking through a back door and they removed him."

Earlier this month, a different bear caused a significant amount of damage to a house in East Missoula when it broke through a door to get at cat food, Jonkel said.

"The person had a lot of cats, and the door was left open once and the bear got that reward," Jonkel said. "It knew the cat food was behind the door and did a tremendous amount of damage to the door. That young female had to be put down."

There was also a recent incident where a bear got into a tent on the Kim Williams Trail.

"That was an unattended homeless camp," Jonkel said. "The people were afraid their supplies would get thrown away at the Reserve Street site, so there was a mass migration up to the Kim Williams site and they were caching food."

Wildlife managers tried to set traps and would have put that bear down, but were unsuccessful, Jonkel said.

"It's the same bear that's been working the University district as well as the Easy Street area and parts of East Missoula," Jonkel said. "He's kind of been working the Kim Williams Trail."

Hawthorn berries have been ripening early this summer, so now bears are eating those and leaving human food alone, he said.

"I haven't had a conflict call in the last two days," he said.

Bird feeders are the bane of Jonkel's existence.

"Sadly, we have a bunch of ... people with bird feeders driving me nuts," he said. "You can't have bird feeders up this time of year in areas where bears are adjacent. It's like putting a piggy bank on your porch and being surprised that someone steals your piggy bank."

Jonkel would like to see state laws changed to outlaw bird feeders in bear habitat during certain times of the year, he said.


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