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Black bear’s trip through Kalispell tracked on social media

by DERRICK PERKINS
Daily Inter Lake | August 19, 2022 12:47 PM

Headed to work just after 7 a.m. Friday, Carrie Jones saw what looked like a large dog wandering near Peterson Elementary School in west Kalispell. Her first thought was to get the pet to safety.

That’s until she got a better view of an ambling black bear.

“When I looked up, I thought, that’s a bear not a dog,” she said.

“It’s a little bit bigger,” Jones dryly clarified.

Jones’ encounter, which she captured on camera from her vehicle and shared on a local Facebook page, was one of several posts lighting up social media sites, simultaneously tracking the black bear’s trip through Kalispell.

Officials with Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks also followed the bear’s progress with interest. They had hoped to catch up with it and escort it out of town, if possible, said Dillon Tabish, regional communication and education program manager with the state agency.

“Just based on the behavior we’ve seen — it’s not acting aggressively, not trying to get into garbage — we’re just going to try to dart the bear and get it out of town. That’s the ideal scenario where we can just capture the bear, dart it, tranquilize it, and move it back out into the wild.”

From their analysis of videos posted online, FWP officials believe the black bear is likely a subadult, older than a cub that’s still under the protection of its mother, but not quite full grown. Tabish noted that the bear — its gender remains unknown — is large enough that it technically might be an adult, but on the young side.

While falling well short of what Tabish would call a common occurrence, bears have wandered through Kalispell before, he said. In this case, he suspected the animal came up a creek or river corridor — possibly Ashley Creek given the locations of the earliest reported sightings — and got lost.

Given that it wandered deeper into town and farther from its home turf, the bear is likely more defensive than typical, he warned.

“This bear is lost, it’s out of its element, it’s in an uncomfortable situation,” Tabish said. “We don’t want people approaching it, driving up and taking pictures. If it does approach you, you want to make some noise from a safe distance and have bear spray.”

But if anyone does come across the bear, he encouraged them to contact either the Kalispell FWP office’s main line at (406) 752-5501 or Justine Vallieres, the agency’s bear management specialist, at (406) 250-1265.

Jones contacted local emergency dispatchers after spotting the bear. As she circled back around the block, she saw police officers heading toward where she last saw the animal.

Matt Rardon of the Kalispell Police Department’s records section said officers stayed in their patrol cars and followed the bear from a safe distance.

“We try to keep an eye on things,” Rardon said. “We don’t have wild animal authority or anything like that, it’s just a matter of making sure [the bear] didn’t do anything where we would have to get involved — in the interest of public safety.”

Based on reports coming in from the field, Rardon suspected by mid-morning Friday that the bear was back out in the county.

Regardless of its location, Tabish said the main message FWP wanted to get out to people was to steer clear of the bear if possible.

“It just looks lost,” he said. “He or she is trying to mosey away from people. They get freaked out by these situations … We’re hoping it finds its way back to the river corridor and heads back out of town.”

News Editor Derrick Perkins can be reached at 758-4430 or dperkins@dailyinterlake.com.

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