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Deaths of two bears investigated at Flathead cherry orchard

Deaths of two bears investigated at Flathead cherry orchard
Deaths of two bears investigated at Flathead cherry orchard
Posted at 6:41 PM, Sep 15, 2022
and last updated 2022-09-15 21:14:15-04

POLSON - What started as a fun day off for a group of friends turned into a sad venture when two black bears were found dead at a Flathead cherry orchard.

“It was devastating,” said Geneva Finley, as she recalled the experience.

“For me, it was shocking and heartbreaking because clearly, these bears were in the cherry trees eating berries,” said Ash Benavides.

One was described as a cub while the other was older and is presumed to be the cub's mother.

Benavides – who took photos on that August day – said they saw a game warden talking to the owner of Pinkman Orchards after the bears were shot.

“The mom was just hanging in the tree," Benavides told MTN News. "I don't even know how high up really, really high up in the tree, which is a defense mode for bears. Clearly, she was trying to get away. Yeah, it was pretty shocking to see that.”

Confederated Salish & Kootenai Tribal Fish & Game are investigating who killed the bears and why they were killed, but would not elaborate, saying the case is being investigated.

Geneva Finley, a member of the Confederated Salish & Kootenai Tribes, recalled seeing what she called "tears of blood" from the young black bear. “It was just crying tears of blood, and coming from tribal membership, we're taught to respect the animals and live with them.”

Benavides and Finely say they think burn areas — from wildfires like the recent Elmo Fire — and a lack of berries due to early bloom contributed to the black bears finding their way to the cherry orchard.

“It’s important that people understand coming on the reservation that our mentality is different, like how we live our lives and how we interact with animals," Finley said. "You know, knowing that our culture plays a huge part in how we interact with wildlife."

MTN News tried to contact Pinkerman Orchards - where the alleged shooting occurred - for comment but they have not responded at this time.

We also talked with Tribal Fish & Game who said they are unable to comment further at this point, saying it's an ongoing investigation.