BILLINGS — Black bears looking for easy food have gotten themselves into trouble in at least four Stillwater County locations in recent days. Control efforts led to the death of one of the bears overnight.
Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Game Warden Paul Leupke of Columbus said a yearling black bear was seen earlier in the week getting food from campers at Itch-Kep-Pe Park on the south edge of Columbus. Some campers either deliberately or inadvertently left food, including trash and scraps, for the bear, he said. The small bear had lost its fear of people and was acclimated to the human food source.
Stillwater County sheriff’s deputies tried to chase the bear out of the campground Tuesday night using a “beanbag” shotgun round, designed specifically to haze bears away from people, Leupke said. The inch-square beanbag struck the 60-pound bear in the head, killing it sometime around midnight, he said.
Leupke also has investigated reports about at least three bears in Reed Point, a pair of black bears in the Countryman Creek subdivision southwest of Columbus and a bear near homes along Shane Creek east of Absarokee.
In each instance, Leupke said, the bears are near houses because they have found garbage, food scraps or other attractants left out by people.
Justin Paugh, FWP’s wildlife biologist in Big Timber, said bears are looking for anything they can eat this time of year as they prepare for hibernation. Garbage cans, bird feeders, barbeque grills, bee hives, pet food and apple trees commonly attract bears to populated areas, he said.
Females and cubs should start to den in the next couple of weeks, if temperatures cool, Paugh said. The big male bears will continue to eat into mid-November before they den, he said.
People can protect themselves and their property, as well as the bears, by putting anything that looks or smells like food out of the reach of bears, Leupke said. Anyone who leaves food out for bears, even inadvertently, may get a written warning from game wardens, he said. Repeat offenders may be charged with a misdemeanor.
“We really don’t want to have to write tickets,” Leupke said. “We prefer to educate people and get them to take their garbage inside, away from the bears. We want to prevent a problem.”
Game wardens and biologists are reluctant to tranquilize and move problem bears during the fall hunting season, Leupke said. The general fall black bear season opened Sept. 15 and will run until the pre-determined harvest quota is filled or Nov. 28, whichever comes first.