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Are we in bear country?

By Judy Reed

Bear rubs against camera in Nelson Township

Bear rubs against camera in Nelson Township

When a Nelson Township resident kept finding one of the cameras near his deer blind on the ground, he knew something was knocking it off. But he wasn’t sure what. So he aimed a second camera at the other one, to catch the culprit on film. What he caught on film was amazing—a black bear scratching his rump against the camera.

“He’s also been in the yard, taking stuff and moving things,” explained the man, who owns property near Cedar Springs Avenue and 21 Mile Road.

Up until last week, however, the man had never seen the bear except for tracks in the woods and the photos he caught of it a couple of weeks ago. Then, on Friday, October 9, he was up in his deer blind when he spotted the bear, about 10 yards away, sniffing his tracks. The man stood up and made some noise, and the bear stood up and looked at him, then slowly walked away.

According to the DNR, approximately 15,000-19,000 black bears (including cubs) roam the hardwood and conifer forests of northern Michigan. About 90 percent of the bear live in the Upper Peninsula, while the remaining ten percent are mainly found in the northern Lower Peninsula. They aren’t usually seen in this area, although there have been a few sightings as far south as Ada. But recently, they seem to be popping up in this area more frequently.

Last spring, a woman and her dog spotted one in her yard on Northland Drive and 15 Mile. “The dog smelled it first and took off after it barking,” said Geraldine Kist, 76. “It started running west across Northland Drive. It was going pretty fast.” Kist said cars had to stop for the bear, which ran off across the field toward the White Pine Trail.

Just last week, another was spotted near Howard City. Cindy Lewis was heading east on Yankee Road toward Northland Drive about 6:15 a.m. to taker her daughter Jessica to school when she noticed something unusual up ahead on the edge of the road, near Reed Rd. “I thought, what is that cow doing?” said Cindy. As she drove by, her heart stopped. “It was a big bear,” she remarked. “And I was worried about deer crossing the road!” Her daughter urged her to turn around and drive back to it, but she wouldn’t do it. “It just kind of looked up at us as we drove by,” explained Cindy. “I was not going to get close to something that wasn’t even afraid of a pickup truck!”

Cindy noted that they have seen bear paw prints on their property, which measure about six inches across. She said that the bear she saw along the road was about three to four feet high (on all fours) and about three to four feet wide. “I always wanted to see a bear in the wild. Now I don’t!” she said.

According to the DNR, in Michigan, female black bear range from 100-250 pounds, while adult males weigh between 150-400 pounds. However, a Kent City man shot a bear in Newaygo County two weeks ago that dressed out at 440 pounds, with a skull that measured just under 23 inches. It may be the biggest bear ever taken in Michigan.

Adult black bear measure about three feet high when on all four feet and about five feet when standing upright. They can live 20-30 years.

Bears are instinctively shy of humans and according to the DNR, will most often run before you see them, unless there is food around. Bears that learn to associate food with humans can be dangerous, and so it’s best to take precautions to keep food locked away. Prevention is the key to avoiding bear-people conflicts, they said.

N-BearAvoiding bear problems

Never feed bear.

Black bear have enormous appetites, and are capable of remembering the locations of reliable food sources from year to year. Placing food to attract bear near homes, cottages, parks, campgrounds, and picnic areas may teach them to associate people with food.

Put away garbage.

Keep garbage in a secured area or in a secured container with a metal, lockable lid until disposal. Keep pet food inside or in a secured area. Put out only enough seed for birds to consume in one day. Bring in bird feeders at night and clean up spilled seed on the ground. Stop feeding birds if a bear is attracted to the feeder.

Never approach a bear or pick up a bear cub.

If a bear comes into camp, a residential area, or is encountered while hiking, first try to scare it off by hollering—leaving a clear unobstructed escape route for the bear.
If the bear stands its ground, makes threatening sounds, or bluff charges, you are too close—take slow steps backward.
In the rare event of an attack, fight back with a pan, backpack, stick or even your bare hands—black bears have retreated in similar situations.
If a bear attacks a person, immediately call 911.

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