Weather Forecast


Black bear encounters increasing in region

A bear heads back into the woods near Country Court south and of Hallquist Avenue, Pioneer Road and Highway 58 in Red Wing Tuesday morning. Due to increases sightings near homes, Wildlife experts recommend people suspend birdfeeders at least 10 feet off the ground (Photo by Sheryl Voth)

Ravaged birdfeeders. Up-ended garbage cans. Raided vegetable gardens.

Area residents have noticed an increased presence of black bears.

Indeed, Wisconsin's black bear population has tripled in 20 years. According to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, there were about 9,000 black bears in Wisconsin in 1989 and, by 2008, the population had grown to between 26,000 and 40,000 bears.

Minnesota has approximately 20,000 black bears, according to the state's DNR website. Most reside in the coniferous and deciduous forests north of the Twin Cities.

Red Wing residents, however, reported a black bear raiding a birdfeeder on Tuesday. That bear may have come from Wisconsin.

Harvey Halvorsen, wildlife specialist for the St. Croix and Pierce county area, attributes the bears' more pronounced presence to their increased urbanization in addition to population growth.

As the black bear population in northwestern Wisconsin becomes denser, cubs are forced to move out of their mother's territory to avoid being killed by larger boars, he said. The cubs search for a more sparsely populated area, and the lower two-thirds of the state fit the bill.

Because black bears will eat almost anything, including garbage, bird seed and even livestock, the DNR suggests residents clean up outdoor grills, hang bird feeders at least 10 feet off the ground and bring pet food inside during the night.

Currently, Halvorsen is aware of two or three cubs creating a commotion in the Hudson, Wis., area, and the strip of land near the Apple River complex in Somerset, Wis., has also been home to some bears. The department estimates that two to four bears live in St. Croix County..

Halvorsen said the animals do not pose a significant threat if people take the proper precautions. For example, as more bears move into urban areas and create homes near residents' backyards, people have taken to setting out food for them, which is Halvorsen's No. 1 no-no.

"When people give bears free handouts of food, it attracts them to urban areas and conditions them to humans," Halvorsen said. "Hunger also makes them more aggressive."

Halvorsen said that if people encounter a bear, they should stay calm and not run away. Instead, look at the bear and slowly back out of the area.

"Let the bear know you're there," Halvorsen said. "In most cases, just talking to it will scare it away. If it gets on its hind legs, it's just trying to detect what you are and if you're dangerous."

Often, a black bear will bluff charge, popping its jaw and snapping its teeth with little intention of moving forward. However, if the bear advances, Halvorsen said people should yell, clap their hands or throw something at it.

Although they are not usually aggressive, black bears do have the potential to become violent if they are injured or nursing cubs. In the event that a black bear attacks, people should fight back and abandon the "play dead" method used with grizzly bears.

When the Bureau of Wildlife Management receives a level one call, which constitutes an imminent threat to human health and safety, it responds immediately by assessing the situation and determining whether the bear can be removed or whether it needs to be euthanized.

However, Halvorsen said these occurrences are rare. In the 18 years that he has served as St. Croix County's wildlife specialist, there has never been a bear attack.

"Animal populations that are wild and hunted are generally afraid of humans and avoid them at all costs," Halvorsen said. "It's true that the bear is more afraid of you than you are of it."

Bear sightings

• call the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture and Wildlife Services at 800-228-1368. For more information, visit

• call the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources in Lake City at 651-345-5601. For more information,

Anne Jacobson, R-E editor, contributed to this report.

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