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Tag Archive | "Michigan Black Bear"

Black bears and humans: What you should know


A sow and two black bear cubs investigate a grassy area where garbage has been left. Photo by Michigan Department of Natural Resources.

By Kevin Swanson and John Pepin

Michigan Department of Natural Resources

For many people, the opportunity to see a Michigan black bear in the wild is an amazing experience.

Black bears are Michigan’s only bear species. These animals prefer large hardwood or pine forests, intermixed with wetlands, and they can be colored black, brown or cinnamon.

Males live in areas that can be larger than 100 square miles, while females—which give birth to an average of two to three cubs every other winter—stay in smaller areas ranging from 10 to 20 square miles. Adult female black bears typically weigh 100 to 250 pounds.

Bears have sharp claws on their padded feet, used for climbing trees and searching for food, like tearing open rotted stumps and trees for insects.

Many wildlife watchers have a natural curiosity about bears, and the chance to see bears from a safe distance, especially when a sow is accompanied by cubs, often produces moments most people don’t soon forget.

Anglers, campers, hikers and others enjoying the outdoors in Michigan may also encounter a black bear. Typically, bears will run or walk away from humans if they become aware of their presence.

However, in some instances, bears do not run. In these cases, an adult male Michigan black bear—which can weigh more than 400 pounds and stand 5 feet tall—can present an imposing obstacle.

“When bears stand their ground, people should do the same thing,” said Kevin Swanson, a wildlife specialist with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources’ bear and wolf program. “In these kind of encounters, you should make loud noises and back away from the bear slowly, giving the bear plenty of room to leave the area. Do not run from a black bear or play dead if one approaches.”

In rare cases, black bears can attack. If they do, fight back with a stick, a backpack, similar available items, or your bare hands. 

Fatal black bear attacks are extremely rare. According to the North American Bear Center in Ely, Minnesota, black bears have killed 61 people across North America since 1900. Bear experts there say your chances of being killed by a domestic dog, bees, or lightning are vastly greater.

According to the Center, “Most attacks by black bears are defensive reactions to a person who is very close, which is an easy situation to avoid. Injuries from these defensive reactions are usually minor.”

In Michigan, while cases of black bear attacks—like that of a 12-year-old girl who was attacked and injured while jogging at dusk in Wexford County in 2013—remain rare, reports of bear nuisance complaints are relatively common.

DNR bear nuisance complaints in the Upper Peninsula tallied a bit over 100 for each of the past two years, down from the peak of nearly 250 in 2004.

However, in the northern Lower Peninsula, bear complaints in 2016 numbered over 200, a new record for the region. Previously, complaints had peaked in 2003 in that part of the state at more than 160.

Numerous factors affect bear complaints, including available food sources and public attitudes toward bears over time as population numbers increase.

Many black bear nuisance complaints involve encounters between humans and bears, that were prompted by human behavior.

“Black bears eat plants and animals and seek out a number of different food sources, such as sedge, juneberry, blueberry, acorns, beechnuts, and animal protein that includes insects and occasional deer fawns,” Swanson said. “Bears also have big appetites, an excellent sense of smell and can remember the locations of food sources from one year to the next.”

Problems typically occur when humans feed black bears, intentionally or unintentionally. Bears eat foods left near campsites, garbage, or foods left out for pets or wild birds.

“The best way to avoid issues with black bears is to never feed them,” said Brian Roell, a DNR wildlife biologist in Marquette. “It is very important that bears maintain their natural fear of humans. Bear problems are far more likely to occur when bears become used to finding food provided by humans.”

A DNR information flier on Michigan black bear details some helpful tips for avoiding conflicts with bears around homes and camps:

  • Never intentionally feed bears.
  • Remove potential food sources, like bird feeders, from your yard. Do not feed wild birds in the spring, summer and fall, when bears are most active.
  • Keep pet food inside or in a secured area.
  • Keep garbage and odor at a minimum by removing trash often and cleaning the can or other container used for garbage.
  • Keep garbage in a secured area or in a secured container with a metal, lockable lid until it is picked up or taken away.
  • Keep grills and picnic tables clean.
  • Bee hives (apiaries), fruit trees and gardens can be protected from bears by electric fencing.

There are additional tips for hikers and campers:

  • Keep a clean camp, limiting food odors and garbage.
  • Food and toiletries should never be kept in tents. Store these items in air-tight containers in a vehicle trunk or suspend food in burlap or plastic bags or backpacks from trees. Hang these bags or backpacks 12 feet off the ground, 10 feet away from the tree trunk and 5 feet from the nearest branch.
  • Always cook at a distance from your campsite and wash dishes and utensils shortly after eating.
  • Don’t sleep in clothes that have cooking odors or blood on them.
  • Store garbage as you would food. Burning or burying garbage attracts bears.
  • Travel in groups and make noise when hiking to avoid surprising a bear.
  • Carry bear spray.

“All of us who live and enjoy the outdoors in bear country share the responsibility of not doing things that will intentionally or unintentionally attract bears and create the potential for bear problems,” said John Pepin, DNR deputy public information officer. “As human and black bear populations grow in some areas, the possibility of human-bear interactions becomes more likely, making this shared responsibility even more important.”

Get more information on Michigan black bears at www.michigan.gov/bear.

See part 2 of this story in next week’s paper.

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Black bear education program for grades 6-8


OUT-black-bearThe Department of Natural Resources’ (DNR) Wildlife Division is offering a fun way for educators to integrate Michigan’s unique flora and fauna into their curriculum while still meeting the required educational standards. Teachers and their students now have an opportunity to experience A Year in the Life of a Michigan Black Bear.

Throughout the school year, students will learn about the life cycle of the Michigan black bear, general black bear biology and behavior, and how the DNR manages and maintains a healthy black bear population. An educator guide with activities and video lessons will be provided.
Classes also will have the chance to “follow” a black bear by using actual data points from a radio-collared bear to track it through its seasonal movements and see what a year in a bear’s life is really like.

This program is free of charge and open to all interested educators of grades 6, 7 and 8. Classes will need access to a computer lab and the Internet in order to use the mapping application to follow the bear. Educators also will need access to the Internet (YouTube) in their classrooms as well as a projector to make it easier for all students to see the video lessons.

Classrooms that participate in the program will be eligible to enter the Year in the Life of a Bear contest, where students can use what they learned to tell the story of a year in the life of a Michigan black bear. Students can choose to retell the actual journey of the bear they followed or get creative and use the information to interpret a typical bear’s yearly activities. Contest winners will be awarded prizes, provided by the Michigan Bear Hunters Association and the DNR, for their classrooms. Prizes are limited to one per school.

For more information and to sign up, please visit www.michigan.gov/wildlife and click on the “Education” button. Applications are due by Aug. 1 in order to receive the materials for the upcoming school year.

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