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Busy spring for bear sightings in northern Minnesota

Conflicts between bears and humans have increased as more people build homes and cabins in northern Minnesota, this according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources,.

Tom Stursa, with the DNR Wildlife office in Park Rapids, says the bears have been having a "tough spring" which has drawn them into yards seeking out food.

The local DNR receives calls daily of bear disturbances in the area. "As soon as the natural food starts growing, our calls go to nothing," Stursa said.

Stursa says climatic factors such as drought, a late frost and the cooler than average spring resulted in a food shortage for the bears. Vegetation grew later this year. Fruits and berries haven’t started growing yet, leading the bears to look for alternative food sources and causing them to travel in search of sustenance.

Bears are omnivores and they will actively search for anything to eat. They eat tender vegetation, fruits, nuts and berries. They also will seek out insects, particularly ants and bees, and raid bird feeders and garbage cans. Occasionally, bears will also prey on smaller mammals, deer and livestock.

When bears find a source of food they will usually return regularly and this is when they most often come in contact with people.

Stursa explained that bears are aware of when the garbage or compost is put out as well as when the bird feeders are re-filled.

"Those bears know your routine as well as you do," he said.

Bears can and will cause damage to personal property, structures, beehives, livestock and agricultural crops.

Black bears are intelligent animals with keen senses of smell; they can detect even the slightest aroma of food, which may lure bears to campsites and homes from long distances.

Black bears are generally fearful of humans but, according to Stursa, if they regularly find food near houses and areas of human activity, their hunger will overrule their fear.

Several local residents on both Fish Hook and Portage Lakes have reported bear sightings in their yards.

The bears have caused damage to yards and trees, structures, bird feeders and have even been chewing on vehicles.

It is the responsibility of the DNR to reduce conflict between natural wildlife and people both to avoid unnecessary loss of bears and to conserve public support for bear management.

The best way to elude bear problems is to avoid attracting them altogether.

Stursa recommends keeping tidy lawns, storing garbage indoors or in a secure spot. He also suggests refraining from feeding the birds and ensuring that the neighbors do so as well will minimize the likelihood of attracting bears into the neighborhood.