Minnesota – Bear Alert Issued as Natural Food Shortage Due to Dry Conditions

A black bear helps itself to a garbage bag at the local dump in Peawanuck. (Photo by Pam Chookomoolin)
A black bear helps itself to a garbage bag at the local dump in Peawanuck. (Photo by Pam Chookomoolin)

“We’re asking people to remove food sources that could attract bears from their properties or campsites,” said Andrew Tri, a bear biologist for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. “It’s important that folks be extra vigilant in keeping trash and birdseed away from bears to ensure they don’t get an easy meal from what people leave out.”

Dry conditions in the northeast and north-central part of the state have caused the natural food shortage. Human-bear conflicts are amplified in these areas when attractants (such as garbage, birdseed or coolers of food) are abundant and not protected from bears.

Dumpsters should be fitted with locking steel lids. Trash containers should be put in a locked shed or garage. Property owners also may erect an energized fence around a trash can to keep bears from getting into it. The DNR has information online about these fences.

Bird feeders in northeastern and north-central Minnesota should be removed until mid-November and spilled seed should be cleaned up. If one person in a neighborhood feeds birds, a bear will remain in the area.

Campers, especially those who use remote campsites, should follow “Leave No Trace” principles. Plan ahead. Pack out trash and dispose of it properly. Store coolers out of sight in a locked vehicle or in bear-resistant containers. Carry bear spray and learn to use it properly.

“If bears are in the area, let your neighbors, homeowners association or lake-owners association and fellow campers know about it so everybody keeps potential attractants away from bears,” Tri said. “Together, we can reduce conflicts with bears and avoid teaching them bad habits.”

Black bears are the only bear species that lives in Minnesota. Bears are more common in the forested region of northern Minnesota but can live anywhere in the state if they find suitable habitat. They usually are shy and flee when encountered but become bolder when their natural foods are in short supply.

Don’t approach or try to pet a bear. Injury to people is rare but as with all wild animals, people need to be cautious and give bears plenty of space.

Avoid bear conflicts by following these tips

  • Store garbage in bear-resistant garbage cans or dumpsters. Keep garbage inside a secure building (not a screened porch) until the morning of pickup.
  • If there is not a secure building to put bear attractants in, erect an energized fencearound trash or any other item attractive to bears (e.g., fruit trees, animal feed, gardens and compost piles).
  • When camping, pack out trash, dispose of it properly, and store food in bear-resistant containers or in a locked vehicle or camper.
  • Avoid feeding birds from April 1 to Nov. 15.
  • If you still wish to feed birds, hang birdfeeders 10 feet up and 4 feet out from the nearest trees. Use a rope and pulley system to refill birdfeeders, and clean up spilled seeds daily.
  • Do not leave food from barbeques and picnics outdoors, especially overnight. Standard coolers are not bear-proof, but there are lockable, bear-resistant models available.
  • Pick fruit from your trees and collect any fallen fruit promptly. If not feasible to pick all the fruit, protect trees from damage by using an energized fence.

More bear information
If bear problems persist after cleaning up food sources, contact a DNR area wildlife office for advice. For the name of the local wildlife manager, contact the DNR Information Center at 651-296-6157 or 888-646-6367, or find wildlife area office contact information on the DNR website.

The DNR does not relocate problem bears because it does not resolve the underlying issue, which is often unsecured attractants provided by people. Relocated bears may return or become a problem somewhere else.

For more about living and recreating in bear habitat, visit the DNR website. Additionally, the bearwise.org website offers excellent information.

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