Five bears in a tree stop traffic on U.S. 93

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A mother black bear and four cubs take refuge in a tree near U.S. 93 just south of Whitefish on Monday morning. The bears quickly drew a crowd as both sides of the highway were lined with parked cars and people stopping to take photos. To buy this photo or others of the treed bears, please click on the "Order Photo Reprints" link below.

Perched high up in a birch tree just off U.S. 93 on Monday, a mother black bear with four cubs became quite a distraction for passing motorists, causing a hazardous "bear jam" that required continuous attention from the Montana Highway Patrol.

After a daylong vigil in the tree, the quintet of bears finally climbed down after dark Monday night.

"I understand the novelty of it, a female with four cubs is not an everyday occurrence, especially in a tree off the highway, but people have to understand the potential hazard here," said Eric Wenum, wildlife conflict specialist with Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks.

When he arrived late Monday morning, Wenum said, there were about 40 vehicles backed up on the highway, some of them pulled onto the shoulder and some stopped or slowed in driving lanes.

"There were probably 70 people [out of their vehicles] with 15 of them at the bottom of the tree," said Wenum, who called for assistance from the Highway Patrol to keep traffic moving.

The tree had shed most of its leaves, so the dark-colored mother with its two chocolate and two dark cubs were easy to spot. Wenum was not concerned about the bears and had no intention of trying to get them out of the tree.

Darting the bears would raise a risk of death or injury and there would be the undesirable potential of breaking up the family group, Wenum said.

"We're better off to leave them treed, where they'll stay until dark and come down sometime," he said. "She just kind of found herself in a bad spot and went up the tree because it's safe."

Wenum said it is unusual for a bear to have such a large litter, and he partially attributes it to last year being a productive food year for bears around the Flathead Valley.

"Four is definitely at the upper end of the norm," he said. "We actually had a female that had five cubs several years ago."

Because the bruin family is so large, it has been spotted often in the area.

"They've just been bouncing around," he said. "They've been seen a lot ... she hasn't caused any management problems."

By Monday afternoon, the bears still were in the tree and still a distraction for passing motorists.

"It continues to be an ongoing battle," Wenum of traffic control. "The bears are still in the tree and people are still pulling over to stop. When one car stops, five cars stop."

Troopers continued to patrol the area frequently.

As late as 4 p.m., there were 75 to 100 vehicles pulled over to watch the bears on the busy highway.

Reporter Jim Mann may be reached at 758-4407 or by email at jmann@dailyinterlake.com.

 

A black bear cub, one of four, takes refuge with its mother in a tree near US 93 just south of Whitefish.

 

A two black bear cubs take refuge with their mother and two other cubs in a tree near US 93 just south of Whitefish.

 

A mother and four cubs take refuge in a tree near US 93 just south of Whitefish on Monday morning. The bears quickly drew a crowd as both sides of the highway were lined with parked cars and people stopping to take photos.

 

A mother and four cubs take refuge in a tree near US 93 just south of Whitefish on Monday morning. The bears quickly drew a crowd as both sides of the highway were lined with parked cars and people stopping to take photos.

 

A mother and four cubs take refuge in a tree near US 93 just south of Whitefish on Monday morning. The bears quickly drew a crowd as both sides of the highway were lined with parked cars and people stopping to take photos.

 

A mother and four cubs take refuge in a tree near US 93 just south of Whitefish on Monday morning. The bears quickly drew a crowd as both sides of the highway were lined with parked cars and people stopping to take photos.

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