Five food-conditioned black bears were captured and euthanized near Heron over the past five days in response to what appears to be an illegal bear feeding issue. Heron is located in Sanders County near the Montana/Idaho border.
Based on reports and observations, a local resident allegedly fed bears, creating a public safety hazard. FWP set traps for the bears in the immediate area to address the hazard of food-conditioned bears roaming in a residential area.
“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 public came to FWP concerned about these bears being fed and the potential danger to local residents.”
Anderson noted that Montana Law prohibits feeding of bears and other wildlife. The law states that: “A person may not provide supplemental feed attractants to game animals by purposely or knowingly attracting any cloven-hoofed ungulates, bears, or mountain lions with supplemental feed attractants…”
Anderson said that the case is under investigation, and that FWP is working with the Sanders County Attorney to evaluate any appropriate charges.
“The last thing we wanted to do is remove these bears,” Anderson said. “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. Anderson said that two bears recently were taken by hunters in the general vicinity, and these may have been part of the group that was fed.
The five bears trapped by FWP were tranquilized, anesthetized, and then euthanized under the direction of the state wildlife veterinarian. These drugs render the carcasses unsalvageable, so the bears were buried in a landfill to prevent contact with humans or wildlife. One male black bear weighed 485 pounds, and one female weighed nearly 300 pounds. These are unusually heavy for black bears, reflecting their condition in response to artificial feeding.
The size and estimated age of the bears removed were as follows: Adult female, 18 years old, 290 pounds; adult male, 15-18 years old, 446 pounds; 1-year-old male, 106 pounds; 2-year-old male, 158 pounds; 12-year-old adult male, 485 pounds.
Anderson said that the food sources for the bears have been removed but cautioned that other bears in the area may continue to associate people with food. He said that FWP will continue to trap and monitor the area over the next several days until it is judged that the food-conditioned bears have been removed and that the public safety issues are mitigated.
FWP Wildlife Manager Jim Williams emphasized the necessity of euthanizing the food-conditioned black bears, rather than releasing them to another location. “As wildlife managers we have a responsibility to ensure public safety,” said Williams. “It would be irresponsible to release these potentially dangerous bears somewhere else when the bears are in such a food-conditioned state.” Williams noted that food conditioned black bears have a history of attacking humans, including an attack two weeks ago in the Bob Marshall Wilderness.
Region One Supervisor Jim Satterfield noted that FWP has not been successful in finding a zoo willing to take black bears. “This is a very unfortunate example of how feeding bears directly leads to their death,” he said. “This is why we tell the public that feeding a bear is the same as signing its death warrant.”