FWP Bear Expert says the ‘Hip Strip Bear’ is back in Missoula

Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks bear expert Jamie Jonkel told us Monday that he was not surprised that a large black bear was spotted on the University of Montana campus early in the morning; in fact, he even identified bruin as the “Hip Strip Bear.”

“It’s that time of year that anytime you see the chokecherries or the service berries and the Hawthorne berries along the river, that means there are going to be bears,” said Jonkel, from the FWP Bear management team. “The bear in college is the very famous ‘Hip Strip Bear’. He’s been in Missoula for about two years now, working on the downtown Bonner-Hellgate Canyon river system and up to Kelly Island.

Jonkel said the Hip Strip Bear does their regular downtown rounds.

“About two weeks ago, or a week and a half ago, he came back to do a tour of downtown,” he said. “We received a report of him heading up the river path about where the Hellgate (High School) football ground is. He started hitting trash cans and was over there near Kelly Island. He hit a few spots there. Now it has done its loop and I predict it is heading towards Bonner.

Jonkel has some tips for those hiking these trails as fall approaches; Be VERY aware.

“Be smarter, be warned,” he said, “Don’t be one of those dopes who walk around with your head down and headphones on. You should be wearing bear spray. But most importantly is that if you live in these areas near a stream or a mountain, don’t take your trash out. And damn it, if you still have bird feeders, I’m going to kill you,” he said. “We’ve been telling people for years, take your bird feeders out on April 1, then you can put them back on December 1.”

Jonkel said part of “bear awareness” is knowing when to give up the walking path to a bear looking for berries.

“And most of the bears that go on some of these trails, they want the trail,” he said. “Give up the trail because they’re just trying to get to the next serviceberry field. But if you have one that’s been a little abnormal, you know, that’s when you get out your bear spray and have it in your hand and then call FWP. If he’s acting abnormal, remember he’s just a berry-eating bear on the outskirts of town. So join the club, because there are about 200 bears doing this right now.

Jonkel said anyone recreating in western Montana should always carry bear spray and know how to use it.

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