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Black Bears Frequenting UM Campus

Black bear. File photo.
Black bear. Stock photo.

Black bear sightings are becoming more common on the University of Montana campus, with more than 10 reported this fall semester. Researchers suspect the bears have shifted toward campus in search of food.

The first campus bear of the semester was spotted October 5 and the sightings have increased in frequency in recent weeks. One recent encounter featured two black bears. 

Students and faculty have spotted the bears near the tennis courts, the M trail and Greek housing. University officials say none have been aggressive. 

Jamie Jonkel is a bear management specialist for Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks (FWP). He said bear sightings on campus aren’t unheard of, but this year the number has spiked. 

Jonkel estimates that there are a few bears frequenting campus. He said black bears used to find ample food by raiding dumpsters and fruit trees in the Rattlesnake neighborhood. In recent years residents in that area have done a better job bear-proofing potential food sources. In response, Jonkel says the bears are wandering further to find human food scraps to eat. 

"They’re just like, 'maybe I’ll cross the river and go over to the campus, maybe discover a little University Center grease, and then the cafeteria-style dumpsters.'"

FWP is working with the university to reduce bear attractants by securing dumpsters and relocating bears caught near campus. But Jonkel said now that bears associate the campus area with easily accessible food, they'll be back. 

"Now these bears have this new memory-map so we can expect to see them back in the spring."

Mary is a UM School of Journalism student and MTPR student reporter.
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