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Morken: How frequent are bear sightings in Douglas County?

This black bear was spotted crossing a road near Lobster Lake, about 10 miles west of Alexandria, on May 30. (Submitted photo)

Every year we will get a picture or two sent into the newspaper from a reader about an animal that they deem as out of place coming through the area.

Often times, the critter is captured on a game camera. Cougars seem to pop up every once in a while around Douglas County. Moose are another one.

On May 30, my dad sent me a picture of a black bear he saw crossing a gravel road into the Wildridge Campground on Lobster Lake about 10 miles west of Alexandria.

The fact there was a bear roaming the woods out there did not really surprise me, but it did get me wondering just how many bears might be around the area. Jason Strege of the Department of Natural Resources in Glenwood said they get enough calls about bears over the course of a year that he would not consider this a terribly uncommon sighting.

"We get a report of them further south into Pope County even about once every few years," Strege said. "When it's up in Douglas County, we get at least one report a year. Often times, it's three, four times. A lot of times it's up by Miltona and stuff like that. That's somewhat into that bear range, but it's not surprising at all."

The black bear's home range is primarily in the northern third of the state with the densest cover, but they will range into the interface of the forest and agriculture zones.

"Once you get into that Ottertail, Henning area, you could consider that borderline bear range," Strege said.

Generally speaking, an animal that wanders outside of it's typical home range is often assumed to be a juvenile male. A young spike buck mule deer was spotted by several people around Alexandria this past fall before getting hit by a vehicle on Highway 27. He was well outside a mule deer's normal home range of states west of Minnesota.

In the case of this black bear, Strege figured he too was a young male, but could not be absolutely certain of that.

"That's a younger bear," Strege said. "You can tell by how long the legs are. That could be a year and a half, two-year-old male just wandering around, but we are close enough to the bear range that that's not a for sure thing. Some of the ones we get reports of by Miltona, we occasionally have them with cubs. When you're that close to the home range, it could be either (sex)."

Strege said most of the calls he gets on black bears in their work area have to do with the animal causing a disturbance.

Hunger tends to drive that. Bears will get into garbages or bird feeders. The best way to have them move on is usually to bring in a feeder for a couple weeks or make sure the garbage is secured properly.

"You remove the food source and typically the problem goes away," Strege said.

There are exceptions, but black bears, like most wild animals, want to avoid human contact as much as possible.

"They're a very secretive animal," Strege said. "It's amazing how if you look into the underbrush of forest or trees how well they blend in. They can move so quietly that it's amazing how good they are at hiding."

Black bears

(Information according to the Minnesota DNR)

Black bears are the only species of bear in Minnesota. They are generally restricted to forested areas, but will cover terrain looking for food sources that can often be in a constant state of flux from season to season and year to year.

The bears will reach lengths of five to six feet long and weight varies greatly, from a small female adult weighing 150 pounds to large males nearing 500 pounds.

Black bears mate during May through July. Cubs are usually born in January in a den. The mother then provides all the nourishment needed for the cubs while she is hibernating.

Bears often roam long distances in the fall looking for food to fatten up on before hibernating. They typically return home to their summer home range to den.

Eric Morken

Eric Morken is the sports and outdoor editor at the Echo Press and Osakis Review newspapers in Douglas County, MN. Follow him on Twitter at echo_sports.

(320) 763-1229
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