Minnesota black bears are waking up early. Here’s how to keep the bears and yourself safe

A small black bear
Bear sightings in the Twin Cities metro continue to rise.
Courtesy of Jitze Couperus | Flickr

Minnesota black bears are emerging from hibernation — and they’re ahead of schedule.

On Sunday, an Isanti County sheriff’s deputy and a Good Samaritan teamed up to rescue a cub from traffic on Highway 65, according to a Facebook post from the department. It also said the department received several calls reporting a bear near Cambridge around the end of March. On Monday, there was chatter about another bear roaming south St. Cloud on the Neighbors app.

Andrew Tri, bear project leader with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, told MPR News it’s a bit soon for the bears to be out.

“Generally, we don’t put any sort of guidance out to pull your bird feeders down and take your trash in until about tax day,” he said. But, “it didn’t necessarily catch us by surprise.”

Tri says the sightings have been focused in central Minnesota, from the north end of the Twin Cities up to Brainerd. It’s partly due to the unseasonably warm winter.

Bear ranges are also increasing and shifting south and westward in the long term, Tri said, with the ursine creatures even making it down to Rochester. However, climate change isn’t the culprit.

“It's mostly people's tolerance,” Tri explained. Back in the 1950s and 1960s, people considered bears a “varmint species,” and “they were treated like large raccoons.” Now, Minnesotans are less inclined to shoot bears on sight, allowing ranges to expand. If you see a bear outside of its normal habitat, report it to the DNR.

“People and bears like kind of the same things,” Tri said. “They like woods, they like oak forests, they like places where there's nearby water and wetlands.”

The lingering drought pattern also reduces berry production, one of bears’ favorite foods, and lead to more bear-human conflict, Tri said.

Be bear aware

So how can you keep the bears — and yourself — safe?

“Treat any animal with respect, give them lots of space,” Tri said. He suggests following the BearWise Basics at home and when outdoors:

  1. Don’t feed or approach bears

  2. Secure garbage, recycling and food

  3. Take down bird feeders

  4. Don’t leave pet food outside

  5. Store grills and smokers when not in use

  6. Tell your neighbors if you spot a bear

Check out these additional resources from the DNR for living safely in bear country.

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