Human-conditioned Black Bear Still at Large Following Attack on Elderly Woman

Investigators have captured and euthanized two other extensively-fed, human-conditioned black bears near attack site

By Beacon Staff

Exasperated wildlife officials are still trying to trap a black bear that attacked an elderly woman in her home west of Kalispell on Sept. 27, and say their investigation has been hindered by people continuing to actively feed bears near the property.

Investigators have captured and euthanized two bears they say were not involved in last Sunday’s attack, but which were being actively fed on the property and were conditioned to humans.

According to Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Bear and Lion Specialist Erik Wenum, who performed necropsies on the captured bears, not only was the victim of the bear attack actively feeding bears on her property, but someone has continued feeding bears in the area since the incident.

“Someone is hampering our investigation by continuing to extensively feed bears, making our efforts to attract and trap the offending bear that much more difficult,” Wenum said, adding that large amounts of millet and sunflower seeds were found in the digestive tracts of both bears.

The attack occurred inside an elderly woman’s home between Batavia Lane and Ashley Lake. The attack was severe, officials said, and the woman is recovering while hospitalized in Kalispell.

FWP set traps to capture the bear involved in the attack and to address the hazard of food-conditioned bears roaming in a residential area. The two food-conditioned black bears were captured and euthanized at the residence in the past two days.

According to a news release from the agency, a post-mortem on the bears revealed extensive artificial feeding of sunflower seeds and millet. One young female black bear weighed 99 pounds, and an adult female weighed 162 pounds. Investigators said neither of the bears was involved in the attack.

FWP Investigator Brian Sommers said people feeding bears can be cited for obstruction of an investigation, and pointed to Montana law prohibiting the feeding of bears.

Sommers said bears that are fed become habituated and food conditioned which can lead to aggressive behavior and the inability to survive on their own when the supplemental feed is removed.

“This in turn can lead to bears breaking into buildings, trailers and vehicles in search of food producing a large public safety issue,” Sommers said. “The act of breaking into structures or vehicles and endangering humans, pet, or livestock is grounds for removing the bears from the system.”

“This is a very unfortunate situation,” said FWP Warden Captain Lee Anderson. “These bears were extremely habituated and food conditioned, and they posed a danger to the people who live in the area. The last thing we wanted to do is to kill these bears. But we had no choice because of the danger they pose to local residents.”

Anderson said that, at present, it is not known how many bears have been food-conditioned at the site.

FWP Region One Wildlife Manager Neil Anderson emphasized the necessity of euthanizing the food-conditioned black bears, rather than relocating them to another location, noting that public safety is the highest priority.

“As wildlife managers we have a responsibility to ensure public safety,” said Anderson.  “It would be irresponsible to release these potentially dangerous bears somewhere else when the bears are habituated to people and in such a food-conditioned state. This is a very unfortunate example of how feeding bears directly leads to their death.”

Sommers emphasized that residents need to remove all supplemental feed immediately, and urged anyone aware that bears are being fed in the Batavia Lane/Ashley Lake Road area to contact Game Warden Wes Oedekoven at 406-270-4220 or 1-800-TIPMONT.”