It’s the time of year when black bears are starting to wake up and get moving.
After a long winter deep sleep, bears often wake up with a focus on food.
“They’re out actively searching, opportunistically searching for food sources. At this time there’s not a lot of food sources available until that green up occurs,” said Brad Koele, a wildlife damage specialist with the Wisconsin DNR.
He said when they can’t find their natural food sources easily, they’ll search those left by humans. That can mean garbage cans, bird feeders, or even leftover on the grill or picnic table.
“Looking around your yard, around your house and just making note of those potential food sources. Here every year, I live just outside of Minocqua, in the spring we have to bring our garbage cans in and leave them inside the garage a few weeks until green up occurs,” said Koele. “It’s just taking a good inventory around your house. Recognizing those food attractions and then removing them and keeping them inaccessible to bears.”
If bears do get into something around your house, they’re likely to keep coming back.
Koele said there are ways to deter bears. The Wisconsin DNR and USDA work together to help homeowners. If unable to resolve a conflict with a bear, contact the USDA Wildlife Services toll-free line at 1-800-433-0663 for properties in southern Wisconsin and 1-800-228-1368 for properties in northern Wisconsin.
Every year, they respond to roughly 800 bear-related complaints in Wisconsin. Last year, 160 bears were trapped and relocated. Six were euthanized, according to Koele.
Koele reminds people bears are wild animals. You’re not helping them by feeding them.
“You never know what that reaction to that bear is going to. That can lead to people getting injured or even killed or us having to euthanize that bear as well because of that habituated or aggressive behavior. Feeding bear, while it might be neat to observe and take photographs of that bear, it’s not good. Potentially not good for the humans and certainly not good for the wildlife and the bear,” said Koele.
Sometimes conflicts are unavoidable.
Koele said if you do find yourself face to face with a black bear, stay calm.
“Don’t play dead or don’t try to approach the bear aggressively or anything like that because that could provoke an attack,” said Koele. “Just try to make yourself appear big, talk loud, yell at the bear, slowly back away and get out of there. Bear are overall pretty docile animals and a lot of times once they see you or take notice of you they’ll turn and run the opposite way.”
He said it’s also important to leave an escape route for a bear, never corner them.
Black bear attacks on humans are rare. Koele said there have been some incidents when the bear’s young or food is involved.
Conflicts with bears and pets, while not common, are less rare.
The Oneida County Sheriff’s Office recently reported a bear killing a dog off County Highway P in the town of Pelican.
“We do have a number of conflicts every year where pets are involved. If you can keep your pet on a leash or at least before letting your pet out in the yard in those afternoon hours, take a look out in the yard. Make sure there’s no bear there to avoid any conflicts between your pet and a bear as well,” said Koele.
There are an estimated 23,000 black bears in Wisconsin.