Bears in the bushes, in the berries, on the road, in my wood shed, on my walks, at my bird feeders, at the mailbox, on the front porch and at the backdoor -- through the years I've encountered many black bears around my haven in the northland. None of the encounters were threatening in any way. I share my property with a boar that has grown large and old. I don't appreciate his demolishing my bird feeders, but I'm glad he's here. We give each other respectful space and peacefully coexist.
Bear sightings in Zimmerman, Willmar, Sauk Rapids, St. Cloud and points south attest to the fact that bears are increasing their range into areas where they haven't lived for many years. Housing developments continue to expand into rural and wooded land, making it more likely that bears and humans will see more of each other in the coming years. It's important we learn how to handle these meetings.
Last year I commended police Sergeant Tom Roy for the thoughtful and intelligent way he handled a bear that showed up in Sauk Rapids. It wasn't aggressive and Roy decided not to kill it. Instead, the bear was tranquilized and transported to Sherburne National Wildlife Refuge.
Live trapping, transporting and relocating a bear is time-consuming and sometimes isn't the best solution. A captured bear must be relocated to an area that's large enough and has sufficient food. Releasing a bear where another bear already lives will result in conflict between the two, especially in times of poor forage.
Recently a sheriff in Colorado who received numerous calls about bears in backyards was interviewed on television. His attitude and approach were intelligent and appropriate. He reminded viewers that due to a lack of natural food the bears were hungry and looking for food. He scared the bears away and said hopefully food will be more abundant next year. Hats off to these sterling examples of appropriate actions that resulted in win-win outcomes.
When bears emerge from hibernation in spring there's often little food available. Vegetation, insects and carrion are in short supply. Consequently, the search for food is extensive and bears wander to where the pickings are easier. In late June and early July adult bears are at their lowest weight of the year and are ravenous. A bear can consume 4,452 berries an hour. They need to consume copious amounts of food in order to add the fat that will get them through their winter hibernation.
Unwittingly, we provide a smorgasbord for hungry bears with our bird feeders, pet food, garbage, charcoal grills, berry bushes, fruit trees, vegetable gardens, unburied fish heads and entrails, livestock placentas in fields and bee hives. Bears are opportunistic and return to where the pickings are easy.
Sometimes well-meaning people try to make it easier for wildlife by providing food. By so doing we take the fear out of animals. In the case of bears, fear is their best defense against humans. When fear diminishes encounters between humans and bears can turn to tragedy. Never feed a bear.
DNR conservation officers regularly get calls about bears visiting bird feeders. Often these bears are young males searching for territory. Leave them alone and usually they will return to the woods, especially if they don't find food in the yard.
The DNR can't just trap a bear and transport it elsewhere. It's not that easy. Live trapping is a solution, but it's not always the answer. So here are a few tips from the DNR on how to live with bears.
Avoid bears by not attracting them. Eliminate garbage odors by rinsing food cans and wrappers before disposal. Compost vegetable scraps. Keep meat scraps in the freezer until garbage pick-up day. Wash garbage cans regularly and use lime to cut odors. Keep garbage in bear-proof containers or in the garage until pickup. Take down bird feeders in the spring, or, if you feed during summer, remove seed, suet and hummingbird feeders at night. Keep pet food indoors. Clean barbecue grills and picnic tables. An energized fence keeps bears from beehives, sweet corn, fruit trees and berry patches. Barking dogs, bright lights and noisemakers sometimes discourage bears from coming into an area.
If a bear enters your yard don't panic, shoot at or approach it. Many bears are killed or injured even though they're not causing problems. Most bears fear people and leave when they see a person. If a bear woofs, snaps its jaws, slaps the ground or brush or bluff charges you're too close. Back away slowly, go indoors, take your pets with you and wait for the bear to leave.
If a bear lingers make loud noises to scare it away and give it an escape route. If a bear is treed leave it alone. It will come down when it feels safe. People and dogs should leave the area.
If after all this you still feel a problem exists, discuss it with your DNR area wildlife manager or conservation officer. Get the DNR pamphlet, "Bear Country: Learning to Live with Bears." Another pamphlet, "Prevent Damage to Beehives with an Energized Fence," is also available.
So if bears enter your yard empty the bird feeders, clean the grill and garbage cans and take in the pet food. Give them a wide berth and enjoy the viewing!
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