Bold and hungry, ‘town bears’ are increasing after poor berry crop in Flathead

JUSTIN FRANZ Montana Free Press

COLUMBIA FALLS — A recent early morning walk through a Columbia Falls neighborhood along the banks of the Flathead River revealed a few tell-tale signs of the challenges the Flathead Valley community faces this fall. First off, the number of trash cans left out at the end of the drive a day or two after pickup has dropped significantly. You’ll occasionally need to step over a pile of bear scat on the sidewalk. And you might even need to consider altering your route after seeing a crudely written sign declaring, “BEWARE! BLACK BEAR SEEN ON THE TRAIL.”

Bears have long been a part of life in the Flathead Valley and western Montana, but officials with Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks say this year has been particularly challenging when it comes to bear-human conflicts. The number of “town bears,” as one FWP specialist called them, getting into trouble this year has increased so much that Columbia Falls passed an emergency ordinance earlier this month to address the problem.

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