A black bear spotted in the Laurel area Wednesday morning was legally killed on private property by a hunter, according to Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks.
The bear was seen in a tree near Seitz Ronan Road, said Bob Gibson, an FWP information specialist. That area is along the eastern part of Laurel roughly at 80th Street West.
The Yellowstone County Sheriff's Office reported on Facebook early Wednesday that the bear was originally seen in the Pheasant Brook subdivision walking along a ditch. The animal ran once it encountered deputies, according to the sheriff's office post, which went online about 7 a.m.
Speaking at about 10 a.m., Gibson said the cinnamon or "color phase" black bear had been legally shot on private property outside city limits. The general spring black bear hunting season began April 15 and ends May 31, he said.
The bear was a male, estimated to be about 3 years old and between 100 and 120 pounds.
This may be the first time this spring FWP has been contacted about a bear sighting in the Billings area, Gibson said, adding it makes sense based on the animals' known behaviors and habits.
"This is about the time of year they start showing up. They're awake now and running around looking for food and starting to spread out from den sites," Gibson said. "What are they doing? Trolling for chow."
Listing examples of reported bear sightings in the Billings area in recent years, Gibson said the animals have been observed around Bench Boulevard and Governors Boulevard in the Heights and in Emerald Hills in Lockwood.
Gibson encouraged people to remove or secure bear attractants in order to avoid encountering the animals. That includes securing garbage and bird feeders and keeping pet and livestock food locked up so that it isn't easily accessible to roaming bears.
"If they move through and there's no chow, they won't stick around," he said, adding that recently used grills can also be bear attractants. "You'd be surprised the number of people that fry up hamburgers, close the grill, leave it on the deck, and the next morning there's a bear around."
The black bear population in the area numbers in the hundreds. Speaking in 2017 about black bear behavior after a bear had eaten pet goats and garbage in a south Billings neighborhood, FWP biologist Shawn Stewart said there were roughly 500 black bears in the Beartooth Mountains and about another 100 in the Pryor Mountains outside the Crow Reservation.
Stewart said at the time that when bears "depredate," or eat livestock, they are always euthanized, because the animals show a strong ability to remember where food sources can be found. In other instances, like when a bear consumes garbage, relocation is a possible alternative to euthanizing the animal.
When hunters harvest black bears in Montana they are required to report it to Montana FWP. Gibson said he believed FWP intended to take samples from the animal to get information about its health.