Bear visits south side of Hamilton, sightings on rise around valley
by Nathan Boddy
Residents of Hamilton’s south side had a surprising visitor on the northeastern corner of 4th and Desmet on Saturday, September 10th, in the form of a full grown adult black bear. Having arrived sometime during the afternoon, the bear scaled nearly 50 feet of a large tree in front of 518 South 4th, where he settled himself into the branches as curious (human) residents began to gather.
“What we don’t want is big groups of people showing up,” said Fish, Wildlife and Parks (FWP) Game Warden, Taylor Keeley. “More people ends up drawing even more, and then he’s just going to stay up there longer.”
Keeley, whose regular district lies within the Judith Basin area of central Montana, was called to the site along with other FWP wardens to keep an eye on the animal and, hopefully, keep crowds dispersed. He explained that the Hamilton Police Department was also aware of the bear, and would be making regular patrols through the evening to assure that large crowds wouldn’t gather.
Hamiltonians are well accustomed to seeing wildlife enter town. Deer can be seen on a daily basis, and moose are also a common sight. (On Sunday, September 11th, a bull and cow moose pair were seen together grazing along the river bank in River Park.) Nonetheless, bears are a less common sight within city limits.
“It’s the berry crop,” explains Keeley. “It’s a bad berry year, so the bears are just looking for food because there’s not a lot of food in the country for them right now.” This search for calories as the season turns toward fall could also explain some of the other bear activity in the north end of the valley. On August 24th, the FWP reported that several grizzlies had been reported along the river between Florence and Lolo. On Monday, Stevensville Schools sent out an alert to parents that a black bear and a mountain lion had been seen near the school. Some people posted sightings with photos on social media of a black bear on Middle Burnt Fork.
Keeley acknowledged that the black bear in Hamilton was far too high in the tree to be darted as the fall would certainly cause injury to the animal, and so keeping people at a safe distance was their goal. “Public safety is our number one priority right now,” said Keeley. “It’s almost a waiting game right now with where it’s at.”
Having tired of all the attention sometime in the dark hours of night, the bear descended from the tree and slipped back into the wild, at least for now.