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DNR sees uptick in bear complaints in northwest Minnesota

Nuisance bear complaints are up in parts of northwest Minnesota, but a state conservation officer said homeowners and others can minimize the risk of problems by removing food sources such as bird feeders, dog food or bags of trash.

Jeremy Woinarowicz, conservation officer for the DNR in Warren, Minn., said he’s had more complaints than usual this summer, including two recent cases in which property owners shot the bears.

Minnesota law allows property owners to kill bears without a permit if they believe the animals pose a threat. Anyone shooting a bear then must contact a DNR conservation officer within 24 hours.

Woinarowicz said one of the bears shot was in Pennington County while the other was taken in Marshall County, both in rural areas; both were “very nice-sized” males weighing about 350 pounds. In one case, the bear was only about 10 yards from the front door of the house.

Hungry bears

Most of the time, Woinarowicz said, problem bears will run away if they’re hazed by means such as a warning shot fired into the air. Removing anything bears might perceive as food gives them no reason to return.

“Folks should realize once the food source is gone, the bear will more than likely move on and find a natural food source,” Woinarowicz said. “But if it’s hungry to the point it needs to eat, a bear is going to lose its fear.”

Why complaints are up this summer is difficult to say, Woinarowicz said, but it’s possible the extreme wet conditions have made it harder for the bears to find natural food.

Besides the two bears he confiscated, Woinarowicz said he’s also had three other complaints in rural areas, including one that is taking a landowner’s chickens.

Woinarowicz said the DNR doesn’t have a policy of trapping and relocating bears because they just become someone else’s problem.

Still, he said, killing bears should only be a last resort.

“Bears are far more afraid of you; they’re not out to stalk you,” Woinarowicz said. “Everybody should always err on the side of caution.”

If a bear feels threatened, it often will clack its teeth together or run up a tree.

Bears are omnivores with a keen sense of smell that allows them to detect food more than a mile away. Spring generally is the worst time for complaints because the bears are hungry after spending the winter hibernating.

Complaints traditionally taper off after natural foods such as acorns, hazelnuts and berries become more available, Woinarowicz said.

“It’s all food related, and there’s less of it (food) out there now,” he said.

Brad Dokken

Brad Dokken is editor of the Herald's Northland Outdoors section and also works as a copy editor and page designer. Dokken joined the Herald company in November 1985 as a copy editor for Agweek magazine and joined the Herald staff in 1989. He worked as a copy editor in the features and news departments before becoming outdoors editor in 1998. He also writes a blog called Compass Points. A Roseau, Minn., native, Dokken is a graduate of Bemidji State University. 

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