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The year of the bear

In late June, my husband and I took a trip to the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia, where we stayed at a family cabin. A neighbor told us there had been quite a few bear sightings in the area.

“One even took the grill right off my deck!” he said, noting that he had begun stowing it in the shed, so it wouldn’t happen again.

Numerous bear sightings were posted on a Facebook page for the Kennedy Peak Trail in the George Washington National Forest. We didn’t see any bears by our cabin, but one day, when I was berry picking in the late afternoon in a quiet area near Kennedy Peak, an adolescent bear made its way through the bushes ahead of me. We each looked at the other, and then I decided to walk away quietly, leaving the berries to him.

This bear was spotted near Princeton. It made an appearance on the deck of Jerry and Annie Ferrier then checked out their bird feeder. Contributed photo

This bear was spotted near Princeton. It made an appearance on the deck of Jerry and Annie Ferrier then checked out their bird feeder. Contributed photo

Back home in Minnesota, the stories of bear sightings continued.

Jerry and Annie Ferrier, of Spencer Brook Township, near Princeton told a story about hearing a crash on their deck at about 10 p.m. on an evening in late May and going to investigate. They looked out the window, and saw a huge bear feeding on their birdfeeder. The bear was on the deck, but, said Annie, “He had his back to us.”

Jerry loves to feed the birds. He has multiple bird feeders on his deck off the kitchen, and really enjoys sitting in the kitchen watching the birds come to the feeders. Retired from Honeywell for many years, feeding the birds is one of Jerry’s favorite pastimes.

When Jerry saw the bear at his birdfeeder, he opened the kitchen door, took the broom, and pushed at the bear with the broom. The bear ignored him. Jerry then pounded on the deck with the broom. What else could he do?

At some point, the pushing and the pounding persuaded the bear to go down the deck stairs – to the birdfeeders which Jerry had hanging down below. The bear proceeded to ravish those feeders as well.

Luckily, while he was on the deck, the bear didn’t turn toward Jerry and Annie, and he seemed content to find food rather than face his human attackers. But, to be on the safe side, Jerry now brings in his bird feeders at night.

“We thought it was safe to leave them on the deck,” said Annie, who confirmed that a neighbor had told them a day or two earlier that there had been a bear sighting in the neighborhood.

In mid-May a 59-year-old Sebeka woman was reportedly attacked by a bear on her deck. The woman was knocked down and “suffered multiple injuries” in an attack that took place about 10 p.m. The woman was able to call 911 and was treated at a local hospital.

“In this circumstance, the feeders attracted the bear, and it was probably looking for more food,” said Lt. Larry Francis, with the Minnesota DNR Enforcement Division, as reported in the St. Paul Pioneer Press.

After the Sebeka attack, the Minnesota DNR put out some recommendations for reducing instances of bear encounters: replacing hummingbird feeders with hanging flower baskets, which also attract hummingbirds; removing bird feeders where bears have become nuisances; feeding pets indoors; cleaning barbecue grills after each use and stowing them inside, away from windows and doors; and storing especially smelly garbage, such as meat or fish scraps, in a freezer until it can be taken to a refuse site.

Chelsie Schmid, production manager at IntegriPrint in Buffalo, Minnesota, was at her desk one day in June when she saw something large and dark go past her window.

A bear visited Buffalo in June. This photo was taken of the bear by Mary Schuster of IntegriPrint in Buffalo.

A bear visited Buffalo in June. This photo was taken of the bear by Mary Schuster of IntegriPrint in Buffalo.

Running through the building, Chelsie called to the rest of the employees and headed toward the back door. The small group of employees went outside to catch a glimpse of the young adult bear running through the parking lot towards the greenery along the fence. Mary Schuster, marketing specialist, found an opportunity to take a photo. The bear was being followed by a couple of vehicles whose passengers had already notified the police and the DNR. Soon, officials came by to catch the bear, which seemed to only confuse and frighten him. The bear ran along the fence for a bit, then somehow slipped away from the officials, heading towards the wooded area north of Target.

The bear in Buffalo was not caught. Soon newspaper articles noted that a bear had been seen in a business park in Delano, a few miles southeast of Buffalo.

In a June 22 article, the Park Rapids Enterprise reported a busy spring for bear sightings. Quoting Tom Stursa, of the Park Rapids DNR Wildlife office, the Enterprise reported that climatic factors, such as drought, a late frost and cooler-than-average spring, resulted in a food shortage for the bears. Vegetation grew later this year. Fruits and berries hadn’t started growing yet, leading the bears to look for alternative food sources. Thus, there were numerous calls to the DNR office about nuisance bears getting into garbage or bird feeders.

By the end of July, a Duluth family looked out their window to see a bear lounging in their kiddie pool. The photo was posted on Facebook at:

Bears usually avoid people

According to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR), “Black bears usually try to avoid people, but sometimes come in conflict with humans when they eat crops, destroy apiaries, or break into garbage cans and birdfeeders.”

The American Bear Association’s Vince Shute Sanctuary located in northern Minnesota, states that black bears usually prefer to avoid humans. But they are opportunistic and will take advantage of readily available food. If you encounter a bear while hiking, do not run. Instead, “let the bear know you are human.” The website advises talking in a soothing voice and lifting your arms overhead so that you look bigger, while slowly backing away from the bear. They also advise making sure not to look the bear in the eye, as this may put him on the defensive.

The warnings about this year’s possible bear problems began way back in March, when the Minnesota DNR issued a warning that bears might be emerging from hibernation early this year. Along with the warning, the DNR posted lists of ways to keep bears from becoming problems on your property, including keeping meat scraps in your freezer until garbage pickup day, bringing birdfeeders inside at night, and keeping barbecue grills and picnic tables clean.

Additional tips include:

If a bear comes into your yard:

• Don’t panic! Don’t shoot! Don’t approach it!

• Most bears fear people and will leave when they see you. If a bear woofs, snaps its jaws, slaps the ground or brush, or bluff charges, you are too close!

• Back away slowly.

• Go inside and wait for the bear to leave.

If a bear refuses to leave:

• Make loud noises or throw something to scare it away.

• Always allow the bear an escape route.

If a bear is treed:

• Leave it alone! The bear will usually go away when it feels safe.

• Have people leave the area.

• Remove your dog from the area.

• Learn to tolerate bears. Many bears are killed or injured when not causing problems.

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