Renowned bear expert James ‘Jamie’ Jonkel appeared via ZOOM on Wednesday before the Missoula City Council to help introduce a much-needed program called ‘Bear Smart’ that has already been in existence in Canada for over 40 years.

Now that grizzly bears are increasing their range and many other wildlife species have made homes for themselves in Missoula, bears are joining the party because like all carnivores, they go where the food is plentiful.

KGVO News spoke to Jonkel just after his meeting with the City Council and he explained the ‘Bear Smart’ program.

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“Basically what we wrote up was a hazard assessment that we presented to the (county) commissioners a couple of days ago, and then we presented the program to the City Council today,” began Jonkel. “It just talks about all the issues in the Missoula area, and how we might address those bear issues. You know, most of it, almost 99 percent is just telling people to ‘clean up your crap’,” he laughed.

Jonkel explained the concept behind the ‘Bear Smart’ program.

“What is happening is called the Urban Wildlife Phenomenon,” he said. “If you look at the amount of water used on our yards and on our irrigated fields, the wonderful fruit trees, the wonderful natural foods growing in the valley floor because of mankind's enhancement of the habitat, it has all combined to make the city areas 1,000 times better to live in for a deer, bear or a lion than it is in the mountains.”

Jonkel described the Urban Wildlife Phenomenon as being akin to ‘how will you keep them down on the farm once they’ve seen the big city’?

“More and more bears are just learning that if you want to get fat, and you want to have a lot of kids and you want to meet a lot of cute girls and guys go to Missoula because that's where it's happening with bears,” he said. “As more and more people move here, we have more and more garbage, more and more bird feeders, more and more of this more and more of that, and the bears have just keyed into it. Just like the elk never leave the alfalfa fields on some of these ranches. The bears and the lions are just living right on the fringes of the city limits, living the good life.”

Jonkel said because many city residents see wildlife as novel and picturesque, they fail to see the dangers of wildlife and human interaction.

“I don't know how many times I've talked to the same person every year about taking their bird feeders down, and all they want me to do is come set a trap,” he said. “Well, can't you set a trap? I don't want to take my bird feeders down. So now we won't even set a trap on top of a bird feeder. We won't even set a trap for someone that has left the garbage out. If someone has chickens running all over their yard uncontained, then we won't set a trap there either.”

The Missoula City Council and County Commissioners are looking for ways to implement the new ‘Bear Smart Program’ as quickly as possible.

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