Bears Out Earlier Than Usual

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Even though winter is just starting to loosen its grip on Montana, FWP officials say they've already had to move five bears in the Flathead.

Bear season is definitely off to an early start.

Feet of snow still cling to the mountains, but FWP officials say 15 to 20 percent of bears are already out and about.

"This year we're off to kind of an early start. In fact, I've already moved five bears and so things are only going to begin to increase," said Mark Wenum, a bear specialist with FWP.

Sunny days mean more and more bears are waking up from their winter sleep, and they're starving, looking for food wherever they can get it. Some obvious spots are trash cans and bird feeders, but they may also go after Fido's dog food.

Experts say you've got to keep all of this stuff out of reach, and keep your wits about you when you're outside.

"Many of us, I mean, I know it's happened to me a number of times, I've walked along and not been aware enough and gotten too close to bears," said John Fraley, an FWP spokesman.

For hikers, bikers, and anyone else out on the trails, pepper spray is a must.

"That's the beauty of pepper spray. It doesn't matter what the animal is: Black Bear, Grizzly Bear, Mountain Lion-- you don't have to discern between the two of them," said Fraley.

Wenum says it looks like it could be a rough season if so many bears are already out now.

One big unknown that could really change that is the huckleberry crop. Wenum says a good huckleberry crop will keep bears from bothering people, and the cherry harvest.

In the last three days, FWP has captured four Black Bears near Columbia Falls and Whitefish.

On Tuesday, they released a Grizzly Bear into Glacier National Park that had been going after calves south of Eureka.

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