Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) wildlife managers are reporting an increase in nuisance bear complaints at this time of year. Bear sightings are most prevalent in northern Minnesota, but they've also been spotted in the metropolitan suburbs.
"Despite the mild winter, this is a tough time of year for bears," said Jeff Lightfoot, DNR regional wildlife manager in Grand Rapids. "After hibernation, they are hungry. When berries and vegetation are scarce, bears are often tempted by dog food, livestock feed, birdseed, barbecues, compost or garbage."
In addition, female bears chase away last year's offspring at this time of year. These young bears are inexperienced at finding food and searching for territories of their own. They are the most likely to show up in places where they are not welcome.
Spring is a good time for residents who live close to bear habitat to check their property for food sources that could attract bears. "When human-related food is easy to find, bears stop seeking their natural foods," Lighfoot said. "These bears eventually get into trouble because they return again and again."
Unfortunately, food-conditioned bears often end up dead bears, said Lightfoot. Sometimes a bear causing problems must be trapped and destroyed. Bears that are trapped because they have become a nuisance are destroyed rather than relocated. Relocated bears seldom remain where they are released. They may return to where they were caught or become a problem somewhere else.
Research and experience has clearly shown that removing food that attracts bears resolves problems much more effectively than attempting to trap and destroy the bear, Lightfoot said. When it is determined a bear must be killed, the DNR can assign a licensed hunter or issue a special permit to shoot it.
Bears will not be trapped for causing minor property damage, such as tearing down bird feeders or tipping over garbage cans.
"If a bear enters your yard, don't panic and don't approach the bear," said Lightfoot. "Always leave the bear an escape route. Everyone should leave the area and go inside until the bear leaves."
A treed bear should be left alone as well. It will leave once the area is quiet.
According to Lightfoot, bears are normally shy and usually flee when encountered. "However, they may defend an area if they are feeding or are with their young," he said. "Never approach or try to pet a bear. They are unpredictable wild animals. Injury to people is rare, but bears are potentially dangerous because of their size, strength and speed."
The DNR offers tips for avoiding bear conflicts.
AROUND THE YARD
Do not leave food outdoors from barbeques and picnics, especially overnight; coolers are not bear-proof.
Replace hummingbird feeders with hanging flower baskets that are also attractive to hummingbirds.
Eliminate birdfeeders or hang them 10 feet up and 4 feet out from the nearest trees; use a rope and pulley system to refill them and clean up seeds that spill onto the ground.
Where bears are a nuisance, birdfeeders should be taken down between April 1 and Dec. 1.
Store pet food inside and feed pets inside. If pets must be fed outdoors, feed them only as much as they will eat.
Clean barbeque grills after each use, and store them in a secure shed or garage away from windows and doors.
Pick fruit from trees as soon as it's ripe and collect fallen fruit immediately.
Limit compost piles to grass, leaves and garden clippings, and turn piles regularly; adding lime can reduce smells and help decomposition
Do not add food scraps to compost piles; kitchen scraps can be composted indoors in a worm box with minimum odor.
Harvest garden produce as it matures; locate gardens away from forests and shrubs that bears may use for cover.
Use native plants in landscaping whenever possible; clover and dandelions will attract bears.
Elevate bee hives on bear-proof platforms or erect properly designed electric fences.
Do not put out feed for wildlife (e.g., corn, oats, pellets, molasses blocks).
Store garbage in bear-resistant garbage cans or dumpsters; rubber or plastic garbage cans are not bear-proof.
Keep garbage inside a secure building until the morning of pickup.
Store inside all recyclable containers, such as pop cans; sweet smells attract bears.
Store especially smelly garbage, such as meat or fish scraps, in a freezer until it can be taken to a refuse site.
People should always be cautious around bears. If they have persistent bear problems after cleaning up the food sources, they should contact a DNR area wildlife office for assistance.
For the name of the local wildlife manager, contact the DNR Information Center at 651-296-6157 or toll free 888-646-6367. The DNR brochure "Learning To Live with Bears" is available online at www.dnr.state.mn.us.