The number of black bears in the northern portions of the Great Lakesregion is increasing. And in some places, such as Minnesota, the blackbear population has reached an all-time high. So officials are lookingfor ways to control the numbers, before the population becomes too largeand the bears begin causing problems for humans. In Minnesota, thestate relies heavily on a hunting season. But this year’s season hasjust ended (Oct. 15) and it was not the success officials had hopedfor. And that could mean more bear problems next year. The Great LakesRadio Consortium’s Chris Julin reports:
The number of black bears in the northern portions of the Great Lakes region is
increasing. And in some places, such as Minnesota, the black bear population has
reached an all-time high. So officials are looking for ways to control the numbers, before
the population becomes too large and the bears begin causing problems for humans. In
Minnesota, the state relies heavily on a hunting season. But this year’s season has just
ended (Oct. 15) and it was not the success officials had hoped for. And that could mean
more bear problems next year. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Chris Julin reports.
Miles from the nearest town, in the woods of northern Minnesota, you can always see
bears at Carol Suddendorf’s place … or at least parts of bears. Bearskin mittens and
hats and mukluks hang from the wall. Suddendorf and her husband run a taxidermy
and clothing business, and they process a lot of bear hides. Carol Suddendorf loves to
watch living bears, too. With a fond smile, she talks about the bears she sees at least
once a week.
“If you’re driving around the
country roads in the evening, as the sun goes down, you often see them
crossing the road.”
In wooded areas across the Great Lakes, black bears are part of everyday life.
Suddendorf has lived in the woods for 20 years. She says she quickly learned the
basics — keep the garbage and the dog food inside, because there’s no doubt bears
will come looking for something to eat.
“A lot of it’s at night. The security
lights trigger a lot and you don’t know quite what’s out there. But a lot of
times in the daytime they’ll wander through, or you’ll get up in the morning
and there’ll be fresh tracks in the garden. They like to go over to the bird
feeder and help themselves to the sunflower seeds, and they can do a fair
amount of damage, but we just put up with it.”
Suddendorf sees more bears than she used to…and no wonder. The bear population is
growing throughout the Great Lakes … nowhere faster than in Minnesota. The state’s
Department of Natural Resources, or D-N-R, figures the bear population in Minnesota
has just about quadrupled since 1980, up to nearly 30-thousand. The D-N-R’s lead
bear researcher, Dave Garshelis, says that 30-thousand bears might be the most
Minnesota can handle without running into problems … but he’s not sure.
“We once said, and this was back in the
1980s, that boy, about 10-thousand bears would be just about right in
Minnesota. And then as we realized that we’re already over that, we’re to 15,
then we said let’s go ahead and stabilize it at 15. And we weren’t able to do
that, so here we are again in the year 2000 saying 30-thousand would be
okay, so if we can live with 30-thousand, that’s great. The more bears, the
better. It’s better for bears, it’s better for people seeing bears, and it’s better
for hunters that want to hunt bears.”
The state tries to limit the bear population through hunting. Because the population
has gotten so large, it opened this year’s bear season a week early, and issued an
increased number of permits with hopes of holding the bear population steady…but it
hasn’t worked out. The state planned on a bear kill of six-thousand, but it looks like
hunters got fewer than four thousand.
(sound of crunch, zipper zips…”I’m empty-handed, yeah” chuckle)
(sound of ducks)
It’s getting dark, and Dan Thomason is wrapping up his last day of hunting in the
woods behind his house, near the town of Two Harbors. He’s dressed in green
camouflage from hat to boots. He packs up his rifle and gear, including a portable
metal seat he’d strapped to a tree so he could watch his bait from ten feet above.
“The five-gallon plastic bucket there is just
what I use to carry bait out to the baiting site. The bait I’ve been using is
whatever bakery goods I can get my hands on. Molasses, oats, sunflower
seeds. Anything that’s sweet or seems enticing to a bear.”
Like thousands of hunters, Thomason started setting bait in August. A bear stopped
by Thomason’s bait station after dark several nights to snack on the sweets, but it
never come by in the daylight. So, like most hunters this year, Thomason didn’t get a
Researcher Dave Garshelis, says bears had abundant wild food this year — acorns and
berries — so the bears stayed away from hunters’ bait. The good news was, they also
stayed away from garbage cans and houses. In spite of the record number of bears,
Garshelis says the state has taken only a few hundred phone calls about “nuisance
bears” this year. In years when wild food is scarce, he says they get thousands of
“In those bad food years we’ve had
these, like horror stories of bears going into a restaurant, going into a
taxicab, and frequently going into people’s houses. I mean I was hearing
calls about that a lot. You know they’re not easy to keep out. It’s the kind of
thing where they can break through a window, easily go through a screen.”
Garshelis says bears’ supply of natural food follows a cycle. In northern states, food is
scarce every five years or so, and Garshelis says the region is OVERDUE for a “bad
With the large population of bears now in the woods, Garshelis says the next food
shortage could bring an extraordinary number of clashes between bears and humans.
That worries him. He says he doesn’t want to return to a time when EVERY bear was a
nuisance, and the state paid 25 dollars for a dead one.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, this is Chris Julin in Duluth.