Due to a recent increase in nuisance bear reports in the Upper Peninsula, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources is reminding residents that temporarily removing bird feeders and other food sources is the best way to remedy or prevent unwanted bear encounters in residential areas.
Food sources known to attract bears to residential yards include bird seed, hummingbird feeders, pet food, barbecue grills and trash cans.
Once an easily accessible food source is discovered, bears will continue to return until the food is no longer available, officials said.
"The majority of complaints we receive about nuisance bears this time of year involve bird feeders or other man-made sources of food," said DNR bear specialist Adam Bump. "The easiest thing people can do to avoid creating a problem is to temporarily store their birdfeeders or other bear attractants in a garage or shed, and only bring trashcans out as close to garbage pick-up time as possible."
Once food items known to attract bears are removed, nuisance bears tend to move on - provided they haven't become habituated to those man-made food sources.
Bears that do become habituated to man-made food sources can create unsafe situations in residential areas if they continually visit the area and begin destroying private property in search of food, DNR officials said.
Habituated bears are also at a higher risk of being euthanized if they won't leave the area and present a potential human safety issue.
The DNR's Wildlife Division staff track nuisance bear complaints, and although unable to respond to each complaint in person, they are able to offer advice to residents on how to best remove bear attractants and encourage bears to move on.
Residents with nuisance bears visiting their property are typically asked to completely remove and safely store any potential food sources for at least a week or longer.
Moreover, campers, homeowners, and others visitors in bear country can avoid problems with bears by making sure they don't create the kind of situations that attract these animals.
By keeping your area clean of food and garbage - whether it's your yard, your camp or your campsite - and following some common sense measures, your likelihood of encountering a bear is extremely small.
Black bears are normally afraid of people and almost always retreat when they encounter humans.
Bears and humans are increasingly finding themselves sharing the same space as bear populations increase and extend their range, and as the number of people building homes in remote, wild areas increases.
DNR officials say they receive the most complaints about nuisance bears in spring and late summer.
In spring, the bears are coming out of hibernation, are hungry, and often are finding food close to residences, rather than in the woods.
Bears are also visible in June and July during the breeding season and as the family units break up and "teenaged" bears wander around, seeking their own territories.
In mid-August through mid-September, bears are frequent visitors to cornfields; the corn is in milk stage, and the bears love it, one reason why damage to agricultural crops is higher during this time of year.
The best way to avoid encountering bears is to follow these steps:
- Do not knowingly feed a bear.
- Reduce garbage odors by rinsing food cans before putting in recycling containers or garbage cans.
- Compost vegetable scraps.
- Keep meat scraps in the freezer until garbage day and garbage cans in a closed building until pick up.
- Remove bird feeders in the spring; if you do feed during the summer, remove suet and hummingbird feeders at night.
- Keep pet food inside.
- Keep barbecue grills and picnic tables clean.
- Use an electric fence to keep bears from beehives, sweet corn, fruit trees and berry patches.
While in the woods:
- Clear food off picnic tables and grills.
- Do not have any food and candy in your tent.
If you encounter a bear:
- Don't panic, don't shoot the bear and don't approach it.
- Wave your arms, make some noise to scare the bear away.
- Back away slowly and go inside, wait for the bear to leave.
- Spray the bear with a hose if you're at home.
The trapping of nuisance bears is only authorized by DNR wildlife officials in cases of significant property damage or threats to human safety.
Residents who have taken the appropriate action to completely remove food sources but continue to experience nuisance bear problems, or who feel a bear is presenting a human safety issue, should contact the nearest DNR office and speak with a wildlife biologist or technician for further assistance, or call the DNR's Report All Poaching hotline at 800-292-7800, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.