Laura Lundquist

(Missoula Current) Wildlife biologists have euthanized three black bears that were addicted to human food, but their recent behavior showed that the Bear Smart Missoula program is having an effect.

On Wednesday evening, Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks biologists captured a mother black bear and her two cubs behind some fast-food businesses on East Broadway.

Because the bears had been getting into trouble for months and were becoming bolder around trashcans and people, FWP made the decision to euthanize them, said FWP bear biologist Jamie Jonkel.

“Sadly, in the Missoula valley, for all the bears we have, there are always these individuals that have really become food conditioned,” Jonkel said. “She had cubs-of-the-year last year, so she was easy to track. She was spending a lot of time on the university campus, and along the river, she was really hitting the homeless camps, dragging the cubs along with her. We set (traps) for her a couple times last summer, but then she shifted off onto berries and apples before returning to the garbage in the Rattlesnake. Last fall, we set for her because she was walking some apartment balconies, but so were several other bears that were keyed into three really good dumpsters.”

People from Bear Smart Missoula have since worked with the apartments to improve the dumpster situation. However, the transient tents are once again popping up along the Clark Fork River and the lack of food and garbage storage associated with that is always a problem. But residential garbage is a far greater problem, Jonkel said.

The mother bear and her cubs were some of the first to come out of hibernation this spring, and Jonkel’s phone started ringing off the hook with reports. She was getting into unsecured garbage and coming close to people. Pictures of the trio regularly appeared in social media posts. Then as residents of the Rattlesnake and Grant Creek switched to bear-proof containers as part of Bear Smart Missoula Phase 1 that kicked in on April 30, the bears got a little desperate and focused on the fast-food restaurants near the Rattlesnake Creek confluence. That’s where FWP trapped them.

While Jonkel never likes having to eliminate bears, their behavior showed that the Phase 1 requirements were having an effect. They moved out of the Rattlesnake neighborhood to where they could find easier pickings.

“We see where bears are working the new bear-resistant cans but not getting any food reward,” Jonkel said. “But I’ve always let people know that when we finally wean them off garbage, there are going to be some individual bears that say no way, I’m going to keep going for it.”

In two years, all of the neighborhoods in the bear buffer zones around Missoula should have bear-resistant trash containers, which should prevent other bears from meeting a similar fate. But Jonkel said one serious attractant remains: bird feeders.

“For all the times that we’ve been preaching about bird seed, I am still seeing people with so many bird feeders out. That is so discouraging,” Jonkel said. “Bird seed is one of the toughest, it’s highly addictive. It’s like a gateway drug for bears. They start going from house to house seeking out bird seed. If you’ve got bears walking on porches, you’ve got a bear trained up by bird seed.”

The Bear Smart Missoula guidance is to put bird feeders out on Dec. 1 and then take them down on April 1. Once spring starts, birds have natural food to eat.

Contact reporter Laura Lundquist at