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Ripening apples are starting to attract bears to Missoula orchards

By Kevin Maki, KECI Reporter, kmaki@keci.com
Published On: Sep 12 2013 07:38:14 PM MDT
Updated On: Sep 12 2013 08:25:29 PM MDT

As berry crops dwindle, more bears are checking out 2013's apple crops.

MISSOULA, Mont. -

A bumper berry season has kept a lot of bears healthy and happy.

The "Bear Aware" Campaign may be keeping more of them out of garbage cans in Missoula.

Bear experts said bear encounters with humans haven't been as frequent in the Missoula area as in past years. But as wild berry crops dwindle, more bears may be checking out apple crops.

Fish, Wildlife and Parks bear expert Jamie Jonkel brushes the branches of a crabapple tree, showing what can be a tasty treat for bears.

Bears have been feasting on lush crops of serviceberries and chokecherries.

"It looks like the hawthorns are going to be great," said Jonkel. "But we are starting to see the shift where the bears are coming down for the hawthorn and wild plum and then they will be starting apples hard now."

Jonkel had six recent calls about bears in apples, just in the Rattlesnake.

The PEAS Farm hasn't had any bears all summer, and none have found their way to the orchard.

"We have an 8-foot fence," said Garden City Harvest farm director Josh Slotnick. "Then we have two hot electric wires at 4 and 5 feet, and this is specifically to prevent bears."

"You're better off putting an electric fence around," said Jonkel, "so the bears can't get the apples -- so they can't learn bad behaviors."

Jonkel said if you live in bear country, pick your apples when they get ripe if you can. Clean up the windfalls.

Garden City Harvest in Missoula has a gleaning program. They come to your yard and pick your unwanted fruit, including windfalls, for free. The fruit is donated to the needy, or used for cider at the Fall Harvest Festival.

For more information call the "Gleaning Hotline" at 543-4992.