Just as sure as the leaves turning colors, bears throughout western Montana are coming down into Missoula neighborhoods to gorge themselves on Missoula's abundant apple crop.

Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks Bear Management Specialist Jamie Jonkel said the bears will go for berries first, but they have a special place in their tummies for apples.

"It's apples and other fruit trees that are the driving force for these bears coming down, and everyone knows which neighbors have at least two good apple or plum trees in their back yards," Jonkel said. "Anyone living on the edges of town has already experienced bear activity, however, when someone new moves in, they are shocked when they see big piles of bear poop, or see a big giant bear getting the last pears from their pear tree."

Jonkel said a clean and tidy yard is the key to NOT attracting bears.

"If you aren't already keeping a real clean residence with no outside garbage, no outside barbecues, no garbage in the truck, you'll be A-OK," he said. "But, for folks who have a lot of fruit on the ground, or leave their garbage out, it doesn't take them too long to find out the hard way that bears are in the area."

Jonkel also has advice for those recreating in the woods surrounding Missoula, be bear aware.

"This time of year when you decide to take the dog for a walk or go for a hike, you should be thinking bears," he said. "Anyplace you see Hawthorne berries or knnikinnick, there'll be bears nearby. We recommend carrying bear spray and knowing how to use it, but the big thing is keeping your eyes open and not just blundering blindly down some dark trail with your dog up front."

The website 'Missoula Bears', states that bears are entering hyperphagia and are feeding excessively to gain weight in preparation for their winter hibernation. There have been numerous reports of bears in the Rattlesnake, Kelly Island and Big Flat, Hayes and O'Brien Creek and many other areas. Mountain Lions have been spotted in areas where deer are congregating.

Call Jamie Jonkel at Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks at 542-5500, or call 9-1-1 for an emergency.

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