MTN Investigates


Black bears deaths investigated at Flathead cherry orchard

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Posted at 11:07 AM, Sep 16, 2022
and last updated 2022-09-16 13:07:34-04

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

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

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

These two ladies share the story of two black bears, killed at a cherry orchard in the Flathead area.

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 and Game are investigating who killed the bears and why they were killed, but would not elaborate, saying the case remains under investigation.

Geneva Finley, a member of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, recalled seeing 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," said Finley. "You know, 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 reached out to Pinkerman Orchards -- where the alleged shooting occurred — for comment but they have not responded at this time. We also spoke with Tribal Fish and Game who told us they are unable to comment further, saying it's an ongoing investigation.