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Bears Will be Bears, But Really…

It is likely that I’ve shared the fact that there are a lot of black bears and grizzlies in Montana. Most of my life, I’ve lived in bear country, so the fact that there are a lot of them here usually doesn’t bother me in the slightest. However, a recent event that is related to bears does bother me.

When we moved into this house six years ago, there was a vacant lot next door. At the back of that lot was what looked like a dead apple tree. Closer examination revealed that it still had two live leaves, though the tree had been badly neglected for quite a few years and was close to being dead.

I started watering the tree and gradually got rid of the dead part of the tree. That was easily 90% of the tree, by the time all was said and done. The tree started to grow again and two years ago, it even produced fruit. There is now a house on that lot and our neighbor diligently took care of the apple tree. It responded by being packed with apples this year. This has been a very good year for apples.

What does that have to do with bears? I’m glad you asked and I’m getting to that part.

Yesterday evening, our neighbor came over with two plastic bags full of apples; probably 40 pounds worth, altogether. That’s great because I can make that into apple preserves. However, I didn’t expect it. Then John (the neighbor) explained. 

He’d gone out yesterday morning and every branch on the apple tree above four feet was broken beyond repair; snapped off as if by weight. There aren’t many things that can cause that. It was breezy, but there were no abnormal winds and no other damage. Deer love apples but don’t do that sort of damage to a tree. That left only one probability; black bears.

Black bears are tremendously fond of sweets, particularly such things as apples or pears. This time of year, they are also trying to eat as much high-energy food, like apples, that they can get. They need to put on as much weight as possible before they take their winter slumber. Bears will also often shred a fruit tree to get to the fruit, particularly if they can’t climb it. This tree was still recovering from years of neglect so although it was packed with apples, it was more like a bush than a tree. There was literally nothing to climb.

As if to confirm the theory that it was bear damage, word came in that a black bear was spotted a few hundred yards from our place four nights ago. There were three sightings in a tiny town 8 miles south of here, too. Further, there have been sightings of black bears in four other towns larger than ours but within 70 miles, plus one sighting of a grizzly in one of those towns.

Bears aren’t afraid of people, but they tend to stay away from people when they can if the bear is healthy. They seem to instinctively know when a winter is going to be especially harsh, long, or snowy, though. If they sense impending bad weather, they forego the disdain for humans and go full-bore on the pursuit of food to put on weight as fast as possible.

Thus, I’m not especially worried that a bear took out that little apple tree. A new one will be planted next year. The neighbor stated as much. However, the damage indicates that we may be in for an especially severe and brutal winter. To be honest, that isn’t something that I look forward to.

Still, I’m reminded of a saying; “Worrying about the snow does nothing. The same amount of snow falls, you just spend more time worrying about it.”

  • If this happened to you, would you be more worried about the bear or the implication of a severe winter?

    • Yes
    • No
    • I’d be very worried about both
    • I wouldn’t worry about either


What do you think?

19 Points

Written by Rex Trulove


  1. I know a lot of people are dreading winter but I welcome it with open arms. I just cannot wait for the white snow to start falling. As for your predicament with the bear, as you explain it is almost to be expected. Last year during spring time we had our share of black bears invading our 500,000 inhabitants city and our neighbouring city of over 1,000,000. That was not due to the fact that the bears wanted to fatten up but rather to the lack of food further up north…. Very interesting story and I can relate to it…

    • There are two periods when bears are the most bothersome and dangerous. In the fall, when they are trying to fatten up so they can survive the winter, and it the spring, when they wake up ravenously hungry

      We don’t have any towns that are that large; a half-million people. Our town has under 1,000 and the county seat, 24 miles away, has about 4,000. Large towns in Montana usually don’t have many more than 100,000 residents. The entire state has around a million. There are fewer people in the whole state of Montana than there are in Portland, Oregon or Seattle, Washington. However, there are also easily more large mammals (the size of a deer or larger) in Montana than there are people.

      • Montana and our own Manitoba province have about the same amount of inhabitants. BTW, I just read that our prairies and some US Northern States including Montana are going to be having a huge snowstorm this coming weekend. So watch out if you are on the road and make sure you dress warmly.

        • Yes, they’ve been talking about it for a week. I have to bring in a number of plants and do a major harvest of my tomatoes, zucchinis, beans, eggplants, and so forth. I’ve planned to do that part today. For the next week, our low temperatures, starting tonight, are supposed to drop to around 20° F. each night. That will pretty well end our growing season.

    • That is the plan. I babied that tree to even keep it alive, so it survived a couple more years than it would have. John plans to buy another apple tree sapling and to plant it properly. It may take up to 5 years before it produces, but it should be quite healthy by then.

    • I’m not sure that is all that I dread, though. The older I get, the harder it becomes to get around in it. I actually only shovel perhaps 6-7 tons of snow per year and it isn’t all at once, so that part isn’t too bad.

    • I’m not really worried about the bears, it is just the damage they can do that is a bother to me. Then again, nobody is forcing me to live here. I could live where it is warmer, less snow, fewer wild animals, and a lot more people. I live here because I chose to do so and can’t blame anyone else.

      The danger is minimal, especially since 4 of the 5 nearest neighbors are deer hunters and all have multiple rifles. A bear would be dead long before it broke into any of the nearest houses or ours. Of course, if that happened, I’d have to figure out where we could store all the meat. There is no way that I’ll let that much bear meat go to waste.

  2. Now that was interesting and for your sake, I sure hope that winter won’t be so bad, I remember one winter in Latvia and it only happened that one time the snow started falling and it seemed that it would never stop falling and in our garden, the snow was up around our waists