Millions of years of evolution have given bears an uncanny ability and desire to make a meal out of just about anything, even if it’s garbage in a dense residential neighborhood a few hundred miles away. meters from downtown Missoula.
An alley behind Bernice’s Bakery near the Hip Strip was trashed by a cub black bear over Mother’s Day weekend, with dozens of residents waking up to find their trash cans tipped over and tipped into the dirt.
Claire Rawlings Gilder first saw the bear in October and immediately requested a bear-resistant trash can from Republic Services. She has been on a waiting list since then and her 95 gallon container finally arrived on Friday.
“It’s frustrating,” she said. “I don’t know if we weren’t a priority because they don’t consider it a bear district. They prioritize Grant Creek and the Rattlesnake and everything, which makes sense, but we had a bear so we needed a bear box.
She doesn’t have a garage, so she’s been storing her accumulated trash in her locker room where it stinks of the house. Plus, she’s aware that the apartment complex behind her home and many nearby renter households aren’t going to shell out the extra $200 a year it costs to have a 95-gallon bear box.
“I talked to the neighbors and tried to say, ‘Hey, can you call Republic?’ but I also can’t say ‘Hey, I think you really need to pay $200 more a year’ because it’s not my place to tell people how to spend their money,” a- she declared.
The situation annoys her because she knows the bear may need to be euthanized if it becomes too used to people and starts entering homes.
Last October was the first time she and her husband saw the bear try to enter their bird feeder. They immediately dismantled the feeder. It was obvious that the bear wasn’t exactly terrified of humans.
“That’s really cute,” she said. ” He is small. But he didn’t run away immediately when there was a knock on the window.
Rawlings Gilder has security camera footage of the bear, and several other neighbors in the area have confirmed seeing the animal.
“Oh yeah, the other morning a bear hit all the trash cans in the alley,” said Katie Crocker, who lives across the street.
Rachael Swan, another neighbor, also saw the bear. Maddie Zubick, another neighbor, who works at Bernice’s, said her cat was nervous around the bear.
For the other residents, however, it is surprising that they live in bear territory.
Jim Helmer, who walked his dog in the alley on Friday, said he’s had an office just down the street for two decades and has never heard of a bear in anyone’s yard.
“I had no idea,” he said.
On the radar
Jamie Jonkel, wildlife management specialist at Fish, Wildlife & Parks, runs a Facebook page called Missoula Bears where he posts information about recent sightings.
He said the Hip Strip bear is on his radar.
“We became aware of him in the fall of last year, during apple season when there were about 40 bears working the rattlesnake,” Jonkel explained. “We had a bear that slipped under the freeway and started hitting McDonalds, Burger King and this taco (Taco Bell).”
Soon he ventured deeper into the urban core.
“Then the next thing we knew he had slipped into the river and entered the (irrigation) ditch and passed the football field at Hellgate High School and started working in some of the residential areas and had also started hitting some of the businesses.”
Like many humans, bears can’t resist the delights of Bernice’s bakery and the sweet smells that emanate from it.
“Bernice’s was hot,” Jonkel said. “I was craving to get in there and have a good diet too. That German chocolate cake in the trash always sounded pretty good to me. Raccoons, bears, squirrels and bear handlers want everything there.
Missoula residents have long wondered how to coexist with hungry bears. The University of Montana regularly sends out alerts about bears roaming the campus area. Residents of Rattlesnake and Grant Creek often find their trash scattered around.
However, bear-proof trash cans are not mandatory throughout the city. Missoula has a bear buffer zone, and people living in this area should keep garbage in a bear-proof container or enclosure. Additionally, bird feeders that bears, deer, raccoons, skunks, and other wildlife in addition to birds and squirrels can access are technically illegal in the city. The Town of Whitefish recently passed a law mandating bear-resistant trash cans. Missoula County applied in March for a $7,500 grant from the nonprofit Vital Ground Foundation to purchase bear-resistant trash cans.
Jonkel said Republic Services just received 500 bear-resistant garbage carts, but the waiting list is so long they’re probably all booked. A representative from Grizzly Disposal, another trash company that recently got a license to operate here, said it has 2,000 bear-resistant cans.
The neighborhood just west of the Hip Strip, south of the Clark Fork River where Rawlings Gilder lives, is not in the bear buffer. She said she’s aware that her bear-proof box isn’t really going to help the situation if none of her neighbors are forced to have them.
Jonkel said he is not yet considering trying to place the Hip Strip area in the bear buffer zone.
“This part of town, we don’t have a heavy hand on trash and freezers on porches and things like that,” he said. “In the Rattlesnake, it’s right on the urban interface, so we’re a little harsh on asking people to follow the bear buffer ordinance and remove the bird feeders, but we don’t. not expect that in the city center at this point.”
He said he wasn’t going to require Bernice to get a bear-proof dumpster just yet.
“It’s very unusual for a bear to go that far down the river, so I wouldn’t expect him to get a bear-proof container,” he said. “They may want to think about it at some point. Even if it’s to keep bear handlers away.”
He noted that the bear that struck the area is a young blond-phase male black bear. After his foray last weekend, Jonkel believes he has returned to the Rattlesnake.
“We are watching it,” he said. “If he comes back down, we hope to release him at some point.”
The bear may simply need to be moved rather than shot, he explained.
“He didn’t do anything heinous, like enter a domestic site,” Jonkel said. “A lot of times you catch a bear, and they have an ear tag and you research their history and find out they broke into cars and you have to put them down. But we might give them a second or third chance at unless they do something heinous.
He noted that the Missoula River Corridor is a good shortcut between protected environments.
“From Kelly Island to Hellgate Canyon, it’s only a 2.5-mile stretch from wilderness to wilderness,” he said. “It is regularly used by cougars to go back and forth.”