Fruit trees luring hungry bears to town

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Reports began trickling into Fish, Wildlife and Parks offices last week from Somers residents who say they’re being bombarded with black bears.

Officials have confirmed the presence of at least two black bears in the area, but Somers resident Leroy Niggli says he’s seen at least four different bears.

After living in the area for 10 years, Niggli is no stranger to wildlife in town.

This year, he said, at least one large male black bear has come into his yard around 5:30 p.m every night for the last week to snack on pears and plums.

“It just plops its butt down and just eats,” he said.

Meanwhile, Niggli said, the public remains unaware of the bears’ presence, and he frequently sees joggers and people with baby strollers passing by less than 30 feet from where the bears are feasting.

To date, Niggli said he and his neighbors have seen three males, one allegedly weighing around 400 pounds, and one mother with cubs.

Niggli isn’t the only person reporting the bear sightings.

Fish, Wildlife and Parks bear and lion specialist Eric Wenum said the department has received around 10 calls about bears in the Somers area in the last 10 days, and the department has placed a few traps in the area.

“They’re just bouncing around Somers from fruit tree to fruit tree,” Wenum said.

He attributed the bears’ sudden appearance to the end of the huckleberry season higher up in the mountains and the abundance of ripening fruit on trees lower in the valley.

The bears, he said, are rushing to pack on the pounds before heading back up the mountain into their winter dens to hibernate.

This stage, called hyperphagia, occurs every fall, during which time a bear will consume between 20,000-25,000 calories a day, the equivalent of a human eating a 50-pound bag of sugar every day, according to Wenum.

The high availability of ripe apples, plums, pears and other fruits also makes trapping and removing the bears difficult, Wenum said, because the bears aren’t hungry enough to venture into a strange, dark tunnel for the bait.

“We can’t compete,” Wenum said. “There’s several hundred pounds of free food.”

Though most of this year’s reports originated in Somers, Wenum said bears tend to venture into all fruit-bearing communities around Flathead Lake, from Bigfork to Lakeside.

Though there is little Fish, Wildlife and Parks officials can do to get rid of the bears, Wenum said resdients can act to prevent them.

He encourages people to harvest fruit as soon as it ripens and to keep it in a secure area out of reach of bears.

For fruit that has fallen on the ground or is no good to eat, he suggested raking up the excess fruit and discarding it as soon as possible to avoid an accumulation of bear bait.

Both orchards and backyard trees present temptations for hungry bears, according to Wenum, and even small quantities of ripe fruit need to be harvested or discarded quickly.

Fish, Wildlife and Parks wildlife program manager Neil Anderson suggested avoiding leaving trash outside for extended periods of time, taking it out only on scheduled pick-up days and implementing electric fencing around areas of mass fruit production like groves and orchards.

Anderson said the bears should have had a good year with plenty of food available and expects the fat, happy bears will be moving out of the area in mid to late October as they head to higher elevations.

Officials advise residents to never approach bears and to avoid areas where bears have been spotted if possible.

For more information or to report a bear sighting, visit http://fwp.mt.gov/.

Reporter Mary Cloud Taylor can be reached at 758-4459 or mtaylor@dailyinterlake.com.

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