By Ranger Steve Mueller
A black bear was reported to have crossed Northland Drive near 15 Mile Road a few years ago. I wondered if it had followed the Rogue River to Cedar Creek, made its way to Little Cedar Creek, and possibly wandered through Ody Brook before getting to 15 Mile Road. A visitor told me he saw a bear track here a few years ago but I personally never saw evidence of the bear. The track was seen about the time bear crossed Northland. Many people may also recall the sow bear that wintered near Ada and emerged from her winter sleep with young.
Michigan’s regeneration of forest and wild land vegetation has made it possible for bears to re-inhabit areas where they lived prior to forest clearing and large human population settlement. Living near bears may present some problems. Generally, we can co-exist, but not always.
One September I was camping at Yellowstone National Park, at the edge of the campground. A ranger drove through the campground with a loudspeaker warning people to put coolers away and to clean camp well after eating because a bear was coming into the campground for easy food. The park service set a live trap to capture the bear for relocation but had not been successful yet.
My tent was set up with one side over me but I folded one side open so I could view the forest. At about 11 p.m. I was lying in the sleeping bag and saw the bear walking directly towards me. I was deciding if I should get out of the bag and into my vehicle but it was too late. The bear walked past my tent ignoring me. I heard it beat a food cooler on the picnic table that the campers next to me had not properly stored. After breaking it, the bear proceeded to bear proof garbage cans where it pounded them and walked on.
I went to sleep until 3 a.m., when I woke to the noise and breath of a bear. It had walked around my tent and was peering in at me. Our noses were inches apart. In the moonlight, I could see its silhouette. I experienced some fear. Bears are powerful and can be unpredictable. If the bear was getting used to people it might be more likely to injure me in some way.
I have encountered bears in the Upper Peninsula and other locations. In each instance the bear has immediately turned and ran in fear. Their escapes were noisy as they ran through brush, making stems push apart and slap back together.
This bear was inches from my head and a startle might cause it strike out with a powerful paw, break my neck or otherwise injure me. Maybe it would take a quick defensive bite before leaving. Fortunately, I did not have any food in my tent.
For a brief moment the bear and I looked each other in the eye. Almost instinctively I quietly said under my breath “hello.” The bear realized it was where it did not want to be. It turned and started trotting into the forest. I said “hello, hello, hello” a little louder with each word as it left. It picked up speed with each hello. My purpose at that point was to make noise that would keep the bear moving away.
The bear was not interested in me and probably feared me. It was looking for easy food. The neighbor campers were endangering the bear by leaving a cooler accessible. If the bear was captured, moved to a new location and later returned to the campground, it would probably be killed. People can learn to live with bears in nature niches but we need to act intelligently in their presence.
If I shouted at the bear when I first saw it nose to nose, it might have been more defensively aggressive and swipe me with a paw or bite me. Instead, a quiet hello alerted it and it departed quickly. It remains a pleasant memorable experience for me instead of tragic for either of us.
Natural history questions or topic suggestions can be directed to Ranger Steve (Mueller) at the firstname.lastname@example.org Ody Brook, 13010 Northland Dr, Cedar Springs, MI 49319-8433. 616-696-1753.