Minnesota Outdoors: Black bears are symbolic

Blane Klemek

    Believe me, if you live where bears live, and if we provide them with a reason to visit our property, they will come.  Once a black bear finds something good to eat, it will continue to return until the food is all gone.  In essence, the bear or bears have been trained.  And in order to discourage them from repeated visits, it’s our job to “untrain” the bear.   

    Food, and the scent of food, is the driving force behind a black bear’s travels.  Aside from increased activities during the May breeding season, especially by male bears, black bears spend the greatest portion of their daily lives foraging and looking for food.  They accomplish this through not only familiarity with their woodland homes and a reliance on past experiences, they employ, non-stop, their incredible noses to find food.      

    As such, encounters with bears become all too common, if not expected, this time of the year. As well, it’s important for those people who live and recreate in bear country to remember that being in bear country not only has its many joys, there are a few things that folks should definitely be aware of.

    The primary factor is, of course, food.  Food is what motivates all bears right now and through autumn.  Nearly every waking moment black bears are busy searching for food and eating as much as they possibly can in order to put on enough fat reserves to sustain them during their long hibernation this coming winter.  

    For such insatiable appetites, it’s no wonder why black bears will become bold enough to lumber into towns and raid garbage containers, pull hummingbird feeders from windows or knock down barbecue grills or birdfeeders.

    If bears do show up at your property looking for a handout, it’s time to quit feeding the birds and remove the feeders altogether.  Garbage receptacles should be bear-proofed, emptied often, or placed inside a building or some other structure.  And energized fences should be constructed around beehives to keep salivating bears out.  As well, some people also build electrified fences around their gardens and apple orchards.  In other words, take precautions to reduce encounters with bears.  

    If camping in bear country, keep as clean and odorless a campsite as you can.  Clean your fish far from the encampment, bury the remains or leave on exposed areas like large rocks for birds such as gulls and other scavenging birds.  And by all means, don’t bring food or wear fishy or food-scented clothes inside your tent or camper.

    For the bird-feeding enthusiast living in bear country, especially when natural foods aren’t abundant, avoid feeding wild birds from April through October.  If you do persist feeding birds, be sure to suspend feeders at least ten feet high and ten feet away from climbable objects.  Additionally, it’s recommended to remove birdfeeders each night, including hummingbird and suet feeders, and bring them inside overnight until the next morning.

    Observing the normally shy black bear is frequently a thrill for anyone lucky enough to see one.  However, that’s not necessarily the case for everyone.  Bears frighten some people.  If a black bear does find its way into your backyard, one of the best things we can do is to not panic or get too close.  And if we’ve done our job and have left nothing outdoors for a bear to eat, chances are very good that the bear will leave.  Sometimes making loud noises will hasten their departure.

    Black bears are symbolic of Minnesota.  These animals thrive throughout most of the state, and, for the most part, remain virtually unnoticed despite their size. Still, problems between bears and humans inevitably will occur as we continue to live and recreate where bears also live.  Knowing how to live with bears is a responsibility we owe to these fascinating mammals as we get out and enjoy the great outdoors.