Bears emerging from hibernation; cause for preparation, not alarm
Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) wildlife managers are reporting an increase in bear sightings as the animals begin emerging from hibernation. Bear sightings are most prevalent in northern Minnesota, but bears can also be spotted in some metropolitan areas.
"Spring can be a tough time of year for some bears," said Karen Noyce, DNR bear researcher in Grand Rapids. "As they emerge hibernation, they are not immediately hungry, but over the following week, their metabolism ramps up and they will begin looking for food. With berries and vegetation scarce at this time of year, bears may be tempted by dog food, livestock feed, birdseed, compost or garbage."
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," said Jeff Lightfoot, DNR Northeastern regional wildlife manager. "These bears eventually get into trouble because they return again and again."
Unfortunately, food-conditioned bears often end up dead bears, Lightfoot said. 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.
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," Lightfoot said. "Always leave the bear an escape route. Everyone should leave the area and go inside until the bear leaves on its own."
A treed bear should be left alone as well. It will leave once the area is quiet.
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 some tips for avoiding bear conflicts.
AROUND THE YARD
Do not leave food from barbeques and picnics outdoors, especially overnight; coolers are not bear-proof.
Replace hummingbird feeders with hanging flower baskets which 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 and store barbeque grills after each use. 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; 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.
For bee hives, elevate them on bear-proof platforms or erect properly designed electric fences.
Do not put out feed for wildlife (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 recyclable containers, such as pop cans, inside; the 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
toll free, 888-646-6367 or 651-296-6157. The DNR brochure "Learning To Live with Bears" is available online at www.mndnr.gov.