Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks bear expert Jamie Jonkel told us on 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 the bruin as ‘the Hip Strip Bear’.

“It is that time of year whenever you see the chokecherries or service berries and the Hawthorne berries along the river, that means there are going to be bears,” said Jonkel, with the FWP Bear Management Team. “The bear at the university is the very famous ‘Hip Strip Bear. He's been in Missoula for about two years now, and he's been working the Bonner-Hellgate Canyon downtown river system and all the way out to Kelly Island.”

Jonkel said the Hip Strip Bear has been making his regular rounds in the downtown area.

“About two weeks ago, or a week and a half ago, he came back to do the downtown rounds,” he said. “We got a report of him heading down the river path about where the Hellgate (High School) football field is. He started whacking garbage cans and was out there by Kelly Island. He hit a few places out there. Now he's made his loop back, and I'm predicting that he's heading toward Bonner.”

Jonkel has advice for those who walk those trails as fall approaches; be VERY bear aware.

“Be better smart, be savvy,” he said, “Don't be one of these dopes that walk around with your head down and earphones on. You should carry bear spray. But the biggest thing is if you live in these areas that are by a creek or mountain, then don't have your garbage out. And by golly, if you still have bird feeders up, I'm gonna murder you,” he laughed. “We've been telling people for years, take your bird feeders down April 1, and then you can put them back up December 1.”

Jonkel said part of being ‘bear aware’ is knowing when to give up the walking trail to a berry-searching bear.

“And most of the bears that are walking 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 patch. But if you have one that's been a little abnormal, you know, that's when you pull out your bear spray and have it in hand and then give FWP a call. If it's acting abnormally, remember it's just a bear feeding on berries on the edge of town. So, join the club, because there are about 200 bears doing that right now.”

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

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