Montana Outdoors

Oct 18, 2011 12:06 PM by Dax VanFossen (KAJ News)

Whitefish bears and traffic - oh my!

KALISPELL- The best way to start a traffic jam on a Montana highway is to have a tree full of bears near a major highway, and that's just what happened on Monday near Whitefish when a a mamma bear and her four cubs spent much of the day up a tree just off U.S. Highway 93.

The whole spectacle began around 10:30 a.m. on Tuesday and lasted well into the evening as nearly 200 people coming home from work stopped to get a look at around 5 p.m., hours after the bears climbed up the tree for safety.

Law enforcement authorities probably having more issues dealing with onlookers and people trying to take photographs, then having to actually deal with the bears themselves.

Everyone and their family members clammored over each other to get a look at one of Montana's favorite sights, but FWP Bear Manager Eric Wennum says, they don't realize they aren't doing the bears any favors.

"No, not at all, and of course the longer they sit, the more stressed they are and especially the cubs of the year, and we've already got one that's on the ground, simply because of sheer exhaustion, he's up the tree all day, he can't hold on to the tree any longer. He's got to come down, you know, it puts him at risk, because now there's a whole variety of cars, people and what not, it's not good for the bears at all,": Wennum explained.

Wennum and the Montana Highway Patrol stayed on the scene for hours in the hopes that the mother would climb down the tree with her cubs at dark and lead them to safety, but Wennum told us, what people have to understand, is the danger that people caused themselves.

"Our biggest concern is public safety, We've got hundreds of cars going through here, we've got 50 or 60 cars backed up, people stopping in the middle of the road, people taking up multiple lanes of traffic. You know I understand the novelty of seeing a couple of bears up in a tree off the highway, but at the same time people have to understand that we can't have them stopping in the middle of a high speed highway."

Wennum told us the cars keep piling up and the bears continue to get more and more exhausted, but as darkness fell the cubs began to come down, and the Montana Highway Patrol kept people from parking along the highway. FWP said the mother also came down and the bears were safe.

Contact Dax VanFossen

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