Wildlife managers have suspended the search for a black bear that fatally attacked a woman in her home near Kalispell last month.
John Fraley, spokesperson for Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, said search efforts are being halted while an investigation into the attack remains ongoing. FWP officers were searching for a black bear that attacked an elderly woman west of Kalispell in late September.
Barbara Paschke, 85, died Oct. 1 from injuries she suffered during a black bear attack inside her Ashley Lake home on Sept. 27. According to FWP, Paschke had been providing supplemental feed to bears and was previously cited in 2012. Feeding wildlife such as bears is illegal.
Bears that are fed become habituated and food conditioned, which can lead to aggressive behavior and the inability or desire to fend for themselves once the supplemental feed is removed, according to FWP. This can lead to bears breaking into buildings, trailers and vehicles in search of food, producing a large public safety issue.
The attack occurred inside Paschke’s home between Batavia Lane and Ashley Lake Road; although it’s not clear how the bear got inside Paschke’s home, it exited through a window, investigators said.
In the days following the incident, investigators captured and euthanized two black bears they determined were not involved in the fatal attack, but which were clearly being actively fed on or near the property and had become conditioned to humans.
FWP investigators set traps in the area to capture the bear involved in the attack, as well as to address the broader hazard of food-conditioned bears roaming in the residential area. The two food-conditioned black bears that were captured and killed had large amounts of millet and sunflower seeds in their digestive tracts, according to necropsy results.
According to FWP Bear and Lion Specialist Erik Wenum, not only was the victim of the bear attack actively feeding bears on her property, but someone continued feeding bears in the area since the incident, compounding the hazardous situation.
FWP Investigator Brian Sommers says DNA results show that the small black bear that was captured and euthanized was a sibling to the black bear that was not captured and is believed to have attacked Paschke. Both were yearling females. The testing further shows that there is no familial tie to the other female black bear that was captured and euthanized due to food conditioning, FWP says.
Sommers emphasized that residents across the region need to remove all supplemental feed immediately, and urged anyone aware that bears are being fed contact Game Warden Wes Oedekoven at 406-270-4220 or 1-800-TIPMONT.