Out of hibernation: tips to avoid bear encounters

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With the recent warm weather, bears have started coming out of hibernation.

“They’re becoming more active after a long winter of inactivity,” said Wisconsin DNR Wildlife Damage Specialist Brad Koele. “They’re looking to replenish their energy supply, so they’re looking for food and becoming more active as the weather warms up.”

For the DNR in both Minnesota and Wisconsin, bear complaints are common, especially in more populated areas.

“We tend to get reports of bears earlier in Duluth than in areas away from people,” said Minnesota DNR Area Wildlife Manager Chris Balzer. “That’s because there’s just more people seeing them or they have a little more reliable food sources there so they can get away with getting up earlier.”

“Calls start increasing as that activity increases each year,” said Koele. “The Wisconsin DNR partners with USDA Wildlife Services, and we’re responding to bear conflicts.Each year we receive well over 700 calls.”

Bears meander into town looking for food that is easy to access.

“It’s usually the bird feeders or garbage. Those are the two big things,” said Balzer. “Occasionally if people are leaving pet food on their deck or something to feed a dog outside, they’ll be attracted to that.”

Despite their size, bears get scared away easily.

“Typically bears are pretty docile animals, and they’re fearful of humans,” explained Koele. “A lot of cases, you harass that bear, make loud noises, and that bear is going to turn and run in the opposite direction.”

If that does not work, wildlife services may need to step in.

“It would be like if the bear’s not responding to harassment,” explained Koele. “If it’s observed during daylight hours, and it’s not responding. Although those are the big things, they can become more aggressive than that. They can both charge you or kind of growl or huff at you and stuff like that.”

To prevent a bear from going near your property in the first place, take away its food sources.

“Take your bird feeders down, make sure they’re inaccessible to bears,” advised Koele. “Your garbage cans, if you have the ability to put your garbage cans inside your garage so they’re not accessible to bears. Don’t feed your pets outside if you can help it. Make sure your grills are clean or put away in the garage if you can. A lot of folks can alter their habits at this time.”

“It’s like training your dog to sit. Every time it sits there, rolls over and you give it a little treat, it listens to you and repeats that behavior,” explained Balzer. “Well, every time a bear comes into your yard and gets a bird feeder full of birds, the same thing. It just reinforces that behavior that, wow, I got food.”

More tips on how to avoid bear encounters or what to do when there is one near you can be found on the DNR website or at bearwise.org.