As the weather begins to cool for fall’s arrival, Flathead Valley residents may notice a heightened amount of bear activity in the lower basins as the animals continue packing away calories before hibernation.
Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks has received numerous calls about the creatures, especially black bears, and captured five grizzly bears in the valley during a seven-day period earlier this month, according to FWP spokesman John Fraley.
“This time of year we get a number of reports like this,” Fraley said. “It’s usually pretty active in the lower elevations.”
On Sept. 13, authorities captured a 6-year-old, 255-pound female grizzly and her two, 65-pound cubs in the Coram area after the trio had gotten into bird feeders and apple trees. The family group also had a close call with a resident behind a chicken coop, and was released along the North Fork about 25 miles from the capture site.
As of Sept. 17, the bears were still in Glacier National Park, north of Camas Creek, but FWP officials say the family group will likely return back to the West Glacier-Coram area.
Also on Sept. 17, a 475-pound male grizzly was captured in the Fatty Creek area of the Swan Valley. Authorities nabbed the bear where a garage had been broken into two nights before and several other structures had been damaged.
This same grizzly had been captured incidentally in 2007 and again in 2009 for killing three sheep and several chickens. FWP officials decided to remove the bear from the population and it was euthanized at a local veterinary clinic.
“Once they break into a structure like that the only thing to do for public safety is to remove them,” Fraley said.
FWP also captured a 370-pound female grizzly without any young on Sept. 18 on the east side of the valley, north of Lake Blaine. Authorities decided to relocate the bear after it had been spotted walking along the edge of a backyard in the woods.
The 18-year-old bear had been removed from that same residence in 2000 with two yearlings in tow, and has been caught getting into apple trees in the Lake Blaine area before. She was released in Quintonkin Creek.
Fraley said FWP would continue to trap for a grizzly that has been getting into garbage near Columbia Falls north of the railroad tracks and for a grizzly that has been killing chickens in the Ferndale-Foothills Road area.
None of the bears were starving when captured, Fraley said. They are entering hyperphagia, a pre-hibernation phase that prompts the bears to pack on fat before winter.
“They’re just piling on mega-calories so that they’ll have enough fat to successfully get through hibernation,” Fraley said.
FWP also reported increased calls on black bear activity in the past few weeks, getting up to 20 calls a day from all over the valley. Some of the problematic creatures have been harvested since the beginning of black bear hunting season on Sept. 15, FWP reported.
Most of the calls on both grizzly and black bears involved the animals getting into bird feeders, garbage and fruit trees, FWP officials said.
“The main thing drawing bears in right now is the apples falling off the trees and beginning to rot,” Fraley said.
Valley residents should try to dispose of the fallen fruit and try to pick as much of the ripe fruit off trees as possible, he advised.
“It’s hard to keep up with it this time of year, but it’s probably the best thing you could do,” Fraley said.
FWP also advised residents to take down bird feeders until Dec. 1 and to feed pets inside if possible. If they are outside pets, they should be fed during the day without leaving bowls of food outside overnight.
There have also been a lot of chicken attacks this year, FWP said, adding that the most effective way to prevent this is with a good electric fence.
Fraley said anyone who witnesses a bear getting too familiar with a residence or receiving food rewards should call FWP at 752-5501.
Most black bears are in their dens by the end of October and the grizzlies usually begin hibernating by Dec. 1, FWP said.
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