2017-06-15 / Outdoors

Black bear sightings on the rise

By Jay Bushen
Of The Enterprise staff


BLACK BEAR sightings have become more frequent on the northern half of the peninsula this year. Wendy Slade and Peter Davidson submitted a photo of this bear, who also appeared in last week’s paper, on June 4. BLACK BEAR sightings have become more frequent on the northern half of the peninsula this year. Wendy Slade and Peter Davidson submitted a photo of this bear, who also appeared in last week’s paper, on June 4. Beverly Kruse slammed on her brakes and was taken aback a bit by what she saw in the road.

A black bear had interrupted Kruse’s nighttime commute about a half-mile north of Horn Road on Lake Leelanau Drive.

“It was surprising,” said Kruse, who lives in Leland Township. “Thankfully I was in my car.”

Anecdotal evidence seems to suggest black bear sightings have become more common on the northern half of the peninsula this year— but, as always, that depends on who you ask.

Some say Leelanau County’s bear population is growing; others suggest social media has simply made locals more aware of their presence.

Steve Griffith, wildlife biologist with the DNR Traverse City field office, said it’s probably a little of both.

“We do have a growing bear population in the northwest, and across the whole northern lower,” Griffith said.

This year, the Natural Resources Commission nearly doubled the license quota in the Baldwin Bear Management Unit—which includes Benzie, Grand Traverse and Leelanau counties and part of Kalkaska County—increasing the number of licenses from 80 to 155.

Hunters have registered 102 of 160 possible tags in the unit since 2015.

“I have more fences on order,” said Northport apiarist Julius Kolarik. “We’re going to put some up. We never have in more than 50 years, but all of a sudden it’s getting worse and worse.”

Kolarik, who regretfully shot and killed a black bear two years ago, said damage at his 15 bee yards is worse than it’s ever been. And due to the declining bee population and increasing price of honey, that equipment damage is increasingly costly.

What’s worse is that different bears are causing the damage, Kolarik said.

“We’re wasting time trying to salvage what we can and going back to recheck the yards when they didn’t get hit,” Kolarik said. “This all takes extra time, so we’re behind like always.”

Ron Baker of Trapper Ron’s Humane Animal Removal & Relocation Services said at least four different bears have been spotted in Leelanau Township in the last two weeks alone: one in Gill’s Pier, one north of Gill’s Pier, one near the “Northport cottages,” and one near Christmas Cove.

At some point, Baker said, bears may become a bigger issue.

“I haven’t seen a bear in five years,” Baker said. “Suddenly we’re seeing them left and right. I don’t know. It’s just dumbfounding to me.”

Regardless, those hoping to keep bears out of their backyard are encouraged to place garbage in bearproof bins and stick bird feeders in storage.

Black bears are essentially omnivores, Griffith said; 75 to 80 percent of their diet is vegetable matter.

And they love bird seed.

“That’s a reward for ignoring their fear of people, but what’s nice about black bears is they’re wired that way,” Griffith said. “They don’t want to be around us, but they’ve got an incredible sense of smell. The average bear has a better sense of smell than the average dog. They’re like a vacuum cleaner walking around the woods.”

Bears may be naturally afraid of humans, but they may make the mistake of associating people with food.

And, as Griffith pointed out, they don’t understand that food runs out.

They’ll keep coming back for more.

“That’s why we preach ‘don’t feed animals’ in general,” Griffith said, “especially bears.”

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