They were designer pillows. That's what really gets Missoula resident Judy Wing. Not the dog food eaten or the spice jars tossed about. The squatter in her crawlspace took the pillows.
Wing recently became the victim of a strange perversion of the age-old Goldilocks tale. Sometime before Jan. 1, a black bear squeezed into the crawlspace beneath her Georgetown Lake cabin and popped through an access hatch into the main house. The cabin is usually vacant in winter, so the bear rummaged for food unhindered. Then it dragged blankets, comforters and pillows back into the crawlspace and denned up for the winter.
"It kind of set up a nice little fiefdom down there," Wing says.
Wing, a former director for United Way in Missoula, first heard about her new houseguest early last week. Her daughter, son-in-law and great-granddaughter had headed up to the cabin for a few days and found it a mess. At first they thought the culprit might be a raccoon. "Nobody thought it was a bear until the next morning," Wing says, "when they saw the bear lounging there with my decorator pillows and comforters and spreads from my beds."
Wing's 5-year-old great-granddaughter named the bear Blue.
Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks has cautioned Georgetown Lake residents of increasing black bear activity in the area. Bear biologist Jamie Jonkel says it isn't rare for bears to den near humans—"in abandoned cabins, woodpiles, slash piles, haystacks, big old cottonwoods"—but this is the first he's heard of such an incident on Georgetown.
"After a while, a house that doesn't have a lot of activity actually becomes part of the landscape," Jonkel says. "That's why I'm always trying to get these folks that have these rural cabins to button them up good."
Jonkel adds that once a bear gets into a tight space, it's extremely dangerous for FWP to dart it and remove it.
Wing has been a little perturbed by the reaction to Blue's fiefdom. She's been frequenting the cabin since sixth grade, "a long time," she says. But so far, all concern seems to be directed toward her uninvited guest.
"Everybody said, 'You have to leave the bear alone. You don't want to hurt the bear,'" Wing says. "I was sitting here thinking, 'Well, isn't that cute?'"
Despite the inconvenience, Wing agreed to let Blue stick out the winter beneath her cabin. She’s also letting him hang on to the pillows.