While university-area residents two weeks ago were keeping the cats and kids indoors in deference to a local displaced mountain lion, residents of Rattlesnake Creek have been engaging in their springtime ritual of hide-and-seek with bears.
Last week, this writer was awakened from peaceful slumber in that neck of the woods to the sound of breaking glass. Upon bleary-eyed investigation, it was noted with some alarm that a stealthy 300-pound brown bear had taken liberties with the bird feeder, ripping it from its post on the deck railing and making quick work of the seeds within. More unnerving was the realization that the bear was quite comfortable ascending the backyard staircase to the deck, making furtive glances between mouthfuls of sunflower seeds, beady eyes piercing through the thin sliding door. While the experience left this suburb-dweller unscathed, any bear incidents in Missoula’s backyard are cause for concern.
The most recent inspiration for bear encounters, according to Bill Thomas of the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks, is bird feeders. “Bird feeders are kind of a new thing for us,” comments Thomas. “We feel Missoula residents in general should be commended for following protocol that keeps animals away from homes and neighborhoods. But we’re asking folks to put away their feeders in the spring.”
Thomas also reminds locals, not only in the lower Rattlesnake but city-wide, of the primary tenets of large predator abatement: Keep the garbage can in the garage. Bring in the dog and/or cat food at night. Anything with a strong food smell is not worth the risk of leaving it where bears can grab it. “The bumper sticker we print is true,” says Thomas. “A fed bear is a dead bear.”
Occasionally, a bear will camp for too long in Greenough Park, where nothing good ever happens to it. FWP has trapped bears out of the park several times in the past few years, once ticketing an obtuse hunter who decided he would dispatch the bear on his own. Since it was not brown bear season and discharging firearms in urban areas is generally frowned upon, the overzealous hunter landed in jail. He won’t likely hunt Greenough Park next spring, though bears probably will. Unlike their occasionally less adaptable human cousins, repeated transgressions are a death warrant for bears. A bear can be trapped and removed only twice. If it returns a third time for suburban pillage, Montana law requires destroying the bear.