Minnesota Outdoors: Learning to live with black bears is important

Blane Klemek

    As natural foods go, this summer is shaping up to be bleak because of the late killing frost and the unrelenting drought. For wildlife that depend upon the bounty that Nature provides (especially species of wildlife that forage on hard and soft mast such as nuts, berries, and other fruit), having little to eat can lead to decreased survival and—as with black bears—potential conflict with people.

    Earlier this season I stopped feeding wild birds because of a hungry bear. After my feeder was destroyed in late April, I discontinued feeding birds for two weeks. After this period of time passed, I then began feeding birds during the day, but I’d bring the feeder inside at night. I’ve kept up this routine every day since then.

So, what’s a bird-feeding enthusiast supposed to do in bear country?  Put up and electric fence barrier around our feeders?  Keep the lights on at night?  Switch to different bird seed? The fact is, if a black bear comes to eat your birdseed, your best bet is to quit feeding birds entirely—or at least for awhile anyway.

Yes, removing the feeders, the seed, the feed, the hummingbird juice, the oriole jam, the suet cakes—what have you—is the best thing to do when a bear pays a visit and doesn’t go away.  By removing anything that tastes or smells good, chances are excellent that your bear will amble off in short order.  Once the food is gone, your friendly neighborhood bear is likely to seek happier hunting grounds elsewhere.

    When experiencing problems with nuisance black bears, what we need to ask first is, “Why is there a bear in my backyard?”  Nine times out of ten, a black bear goes where its nose “tells” it to go.  And where that place is, is usually where there’s something good to eat.  The sweet smelling hummingbird sugar-water, grape jelly oriole food, black oil sunflower seed, peanut butter, and scrumptious suet cakes are delicacies that bears can’t resist.    

    Sometimes, especially when natural foods are scarce, a black bear’s drive to eat might become so overwhelming that some of its natural wariness around people and our homes might be temporarily diminished.  And when this happens, bears find themselves in trouble with people.  This is why it’s recommended to avoid feeding birds completely from April 15 to October 15.

    Despite our love for feeding wild birds, our feathered friends will do just fine without our handouts.  But if it’s insisted that summertime bird feeding stations be maintained, then be aware that it’s possible that a black bear might find its way to your backyard someday.  And if that should occur, and you wish to continue feeding birds, there are several things you can and should do.

    If you don’t want to stop feeding birds, consider stopping for at least for ten days to two weeks.  Remove all of your feeders, put them in a secure location, and clean up any residual seed or other bird foods from the ground or other areas.  As soon as a bear or bears realize that the food is gone, bears will usually move on.

     Despite the potential for decreased natural food abundance this season, bears and their population appear to be doing very well. By many accounts, people are reporting seeing more bears than perhaps in years past. Part of this might have to do with more people living in bear country, but it’s also a strong indication that Minnesota’s black bear population might be growing.

       As such, learning to live with black bears is important for anyone living and recreating throughout northern Minnesota.  Black bears, though shy and elusive, are equipped with keen noses and large appetites that sometimes put them at odds with people. Understanding their behavior, coupled with our due diligence in mitigating their actions and natural tendencies, will go a long way toward minimizing encounters with bears as we get out and enjoy the great outdoors.

    Blane enjoys getting feedback from readers and hearing your stories from Minnesota’s great outdoors. Reach him at bklemek@yahoo.com.