Do you know what to do if you encounter a black bear?
The most obvious choice: walk away, but then determine if you inadvertently attracted the bear and do something about it
TINA L. SCOTT
Here in northern Wisconsin, black bear sightings aren’t terribly unusual. They’ve even been spotted within the Merrill City limits with enough regularity that, while a curiosity, they aren’t generally cause for alarm.
The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources said bear sightings can occur in any county within the state and “Sightings usually increase in early summer when male bears around 18 months old are pushed out by their mothers and are on their own for the first time. Bear breeding season also occurs in early summer, resulting in many male bears wandering around in search of a mate,” a recent DNR press release said.
Nonetheless, it’s best to leave the bears alone, if possible if/when you see them. If a bear is in a tree, walk away and leave it alone. It will come down and return to its home in the woods after dark or when it no longer feels threatened. If it’s in the woods, stay calm and simply walk the other way. Don’t approach the bear, particularly if it is a sow with cubs, and never get between a sow and her cubs.
If a bear is near your home or cabin, the DNR offers the following tips:
• Wave your arms and make noise to scare it away.
• Back away slowly and seek a safe location where you can wait for the bear to leave.
• When scaring a bear away, make sure it has a clear escape route; never corner a bear.
Black bears are naturally cautious animals that normally avoid contact with people and pets for their safety, the release said. But conflicts can arise.
“For your safety, do not attempt to break up a fight between your pet and a bear,” the release said.
Typically black bears enjoy solitude in the forest, are secretive, and try to avoid people, “but their powerful sense of smell can lead them into urban areas in search of food,” the release said. People may unknowingly invite them into their yards. “By understanding bear behavior, there are several ways people can reduce negative human-bear conflicts around their homes.”
Most conflicts or problems between people and bears occur when bears find sources of food near an inhabited home or cabin. Garbage cans are an obvious source, but bird feeders are also attractive to bears.
“If a bear finds food, such as bird feed or garbage near your home or cabin, it will likely return for more,” the DNR said. “Bear visits are more likely to stop when food is no longer available. Bears will periodically check sites where food was once available, so it may take several days to weeks after a food source has been removed for a bear to completely discontinue visiting food sites.”
In the meantime, if bears have become a problem or you don’t want to invite them into your area, the DNR suggests making sure “these tasty food sources are hidden from bears” year round, but especially during the warm months when bears are more active, by doing the following:
• Completely remove bird feeders, even during daytime hours. [Bears are active during the day and may cause problems even if the feeders are out only during that time.]
• Clean areas where bird feeders were located so that accumulated deposits of spilled seed are removed.
• Reduce garbage odors by rinsing food cans before putting them in covered recycling containers or garbage cans.
• Keep meat scraps in the freezer until garbage day, and if possible, keep garbage cans in a closed building until the morning of pick-up.
• Be sure to lock commercial dumpsters.
• Keep pet food inside or inaccessible to bears even during daytime hours.
• Keep grills and picnic tables clean.
“Living With Black Bears In Wisconsin,” a pamphlet published by the DNR, is a great resource for learning more about co-existing with bears in Wisconsin.
Each year, the DNR partners with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services Program to respond to approximately 800 bear-related complaints reported in Wisconsin. If unable to resolve a conflict with a bear, call the USDA Wildlife Services at 1.800.228.1368.