Preventing Bear Problems in Michigan


Photo: Michigan DNR

Earlier this month, a black bear was sighted swimming in Muskegon Lake and walking near a bike path in Muskegon, which caused quite a stir. Bear are typically found in the northern two-thirds of the state, rarely seen in the lower portion. Bear-human encounters are rare, but will increase as tourism expands in northern Michigan. There is an annual hunting season to help regulate the bear population, however encounters can still occur even when the populations are under control, so it is important to take precautions.

Spring and early summer are when bear are coming out of hibernation looking for food. Yearling bear, especially young males are driven away from their mothers to find their own territory, which makes them aggressive and more likely to come into contact with humans. At this time bear will travel great distances for food, with a great sense of smell and appetite, and the ability to remember locations from year to year. Most bear are shy and will stay away from humans, unless their natural food sources are depleted and they feed on garbage, birdseeds, pet foods, or human foods. Being large and powerful animals, bear must be respected, especially when sighted.

When in bear range, it’s important to avoid potential problems by keeping these potential problems and tips in mind:

1. Bear are attracted to garbage and food sources. To avoid attracting bear, never intentionally feed them and keep garbage in a secured area with a metal, lockable lid. Keep food and garbage odors under control by removing trash regularly and cleaning the containers. Keep pet food stored securely and put out only enough bird food that will be eaten in one day. Secure feeders at night and clean up any fallen seed. Always keep outdoor grills and tables clean.

2. If bears are seen in a tree in a residential area, clear dogs and people from the site in order to allow the bear to come down and leave the area. For more assistance, call the DNR RAP Hotline 1-800-292-7800 or the local law enforcement agency.

3. Bear are attracted to beehives, orchard, or agricultural crops. Put hives close together in open, human populated areas to encourage protection, and encourage hunting in areas where bear are a problem. Use a guard dog to warn of bear or install an electric fence for protection.

4. It’s typical for bear to live near livestock operations, so avoid locating pastures near remote areas or fields and woodlands. Pen livestock at night and do not leave dead carcasses exposed.

5. Camping, especially  in bear country poses many potential problems. Look for bear signs, such as tracks, droppings, or broken limbs before pitching camp, and always keep a clean area, with minimal food odors and waste. Never keep food in tents, but stored in air tight containers in a vehicle or suspended in bags from trees, about 12 ft above ground, 10 ft above trunk, and 5 feet from nearest branch. Do not wear clothes that you cooked or ate in to bed.

6. If you are ever to encounter a bear, first try to scare it off by yelling, making sure to leave an easy escape route for the bear. If the bear begins making threatening noises, give it space and take slow steps backward. If the bear attacks, fight back with a pan, backpack, stick, or even your bare hands, to get them to retreat.

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