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Beware of bears bandying about

Bear complaints in the region are on the rise this summer, according to Department of Natural Resources officials.

Bob Kirsch, the DNR wildlife manager in Two Harbors, said calls about bears are "up a little bit the last couple of weeks."

Most are coming from outside of city limits with bears coming to bird feeders and garbage cans, he said. Kirsch said it's par for the course in the area, unlike Duluth, where "you get one there and everyone calls about it."

"West Duluth, around the zoo. That seems to be the hotspot this year," said Martha Minchak, DNR assistant area wildlife manager in Duluth.

Minchak has received a total of 47 calls so far this year, she said.

"The last few years, it's been in the low 40s or the 30s or 20s for the whole year," she said, "so this is a bit of an uptick for us."

DNR conservation officer Dan Thomasen of the Two Harbors area reported this week that "bears seem to be readily coming to hunters' baits as most berries have dried up with the continued hot and windy weather." The Minnesota bear hunt began Wednesday. Thomason said that while checking on one hunter's station, he walked in on a sow with two cubs.

In Grand Marais and up the Gunflint Trail there have been many bear stories. DNR officer Darin Fagerman said reports of nuisance bear activity was high. "Bears are being reported in the city of Grand Marais. Leave them alone," he wrote in his weekly report Sunday. On the Gunflint Trail, three homes were broken into by bears. Two were occupied. "Mosquito screens aren't much for keeping the bears out," Fagerman reported. He said he was charged himself by a mother bear while checking out a bait station. The Minnesota bear hunting season opened Wednesday.

DNR officer Kipp Duncan, who covers the eastern half of Duluth, also said he's been getting a lot of "nuisance bear" calls.

"I've been telling people, we have the bears because of what we do here. Put your garbage away. You and your neighbors have to band together. If your neighbor has five bird feeders out there, you're going to have bears."

Officer Randy Hanzal of Duluth reported that one resident shot and killed a charging bear after he ran into it at his bird feeders.

Minchak said some natural foods seem plentiful now, including apples, acorns, chokecherries and pincherries. But some bears, especially those in town, return to places they know they can find garbage or bird feed, Minchak said.

"It's almost always birdfeeders or garbage," Minchak said.

The DNR does not trap and remove nuisance bears that are finding garbage and bird feeders. That has proven ineffective in the past because bears simply return.

The DNR offers this advice for eliminating nuisance bear problems, Minchak said:

- Keep your garbage in your garage with the door closed. If you don't have a garage, cover your trash can with a sturdy lid and use a rubber-style (not fabric-style) bungee cord to secure it.

- If covering your garbage doesn't work, you'll have to build some kind of structure to hold the garbage containers.

- At apartments and condominium complexes, consider getting metal dumpsters with metal lids that secure tightly.

- Haze the bears every time you see them. Yell at them. Bang pots or other loud objects. Let the bear know it isn't welcome.

"What I recommend is that people throw things at them like tennis balls or small rocks just a little bigger than gravel," Minchak said. "Something that won't hurt them but lets them know you mean business."

If one neighbor is feeding deer (which is illegal within city limits in Duluth and Two Harbors) or birds or bears, other neighbors will have to persuade the person to quit feeding, Minchak said.

"It's all preventable stuff," she said.

But even the best practices are proving futile for hungry bears. DNR officer Marty Stage from the Ely area reported that careful campers have been victims. "Apparently these bears have learned to climb the food pack trees and bite the ropes or ride the packs to the ground."