Black Bears in the BWCA

     The black bears in the Boundary Waters have been quite scarce this year.  Maybe it’s because of the great berry supply this year or maybe campers are keeping their sites cleaner.  Whatever the reason we’re thankful because it isn’t fun to deal with a pesky bear while on a canoe camping trip.

     We haven’t even seen a bear at Voyageur Canoe Outfitters this year. There was one next door at our neighbor’s house but not a one spotted here.  It’s unusual there haven’t been any around and I wonder why the population seems to be down or why we are seeing fewer.  Again it could be the good berry crop because I don’t think we’re doing anything different with our garbage.

     There have been years we’ve had problem bears at Voyageur.  We’ve had them get into the garbage on numerous occasions, mess with the grills on our lodge deck at times and even find their way into a cabin one time.  We even keep our dumpster here in the summer as well as a recyclying trailer and we still don’t have problems. 

     Some places aren’t as lucky as we are.  I know there used to be an open dump where folks could go see numerous bears at one time but those days are long over for us.  Will they ever return?  If the folks in this article have their way then that’s how they’ll handle their problem bears.

Winnipeg Free Press – PRINT EDITION  Cottagers favour feeding hungry bears elsewhere  By: Aldo Santin

At this cottage development southeast of Grand Beach, Helen Toews and her neighbour, Alice Nixdorf, said bears regularly walk through their development at least twice day — early morning and late afternoon. But Nixdorf said bears weren’t a problem here until officials closed the local dump.

"We used to drive out there with our kids and watch the bears with their cubs from our cars," Nixdorf said. "Where do the bears go now when they’ve got no food?"

Toews said feeding bears in an isolated spot sounds like the perfect solution.

"That’s what we used to do — throw some food out in the bush for the bears," Toews said. "They tell us now not to keep any garbage out, yet I’ve got one bear who comes to my deck every day."

Feeding bears when food in the wild is scarce is a technique advocated by Minnesota wildlife biologist Lynn Rogers, director of the Wildlife Research Institute and the North American Bear Centre at Ely, Minn.

Rogers said that instead of shooting bears that wander into highly populated areas searching for food, diversionary feeding — keeping bears away by providing them with food in isolated locations — would solve the problem.

Dry weather conditions this year have resulted in a scarcity of berries, resulting in bears searching for other sources of food and coming into contact with people. Bear reports in the Grand Beach district, including Gull Lake, are more than double this year compared to last year.

Three bears that wandered into the dunes area of Grand Beach were shot and killed within the past week.

Manitoba Conservation staff have used diversionary feeding for ducks, geese, deers and elk but say it’s unproven for black bears and they won’t attempt it.

Hank Hristienko, Manitoba Conservation manager of black bears, moose and wolves, dismissed Rogers’ approach as unproven.

"There hasn’t been any scientific evidence to support this," Hristienko said, adding he is not aware of any research that examines the long-term implications for bears and their association with people.

Rogers said there is a great deal of misconceptions about black bears and very little scientific study to back most people’s claims that bears should not be fed.

He presented his theory last month at the 20th International Conference on Bear Research and Management in Ottawa and he’s releasing a paper in the next edition of the peer-reviewed Human-Wildlife Interactions Journal.

"I have eight years of data to support my position and it’s been demonstrated to work in other areas," Rogers said.

At nearby Grand Beach, the increased bear activity hasn’t been enough to keep the crowds away. The beach and boardwalk at the west beach was busy Thursday afternoon.

Darrell Flett, a summer resident at Grand Marais, said he’s instructed his two young children how to act if they encounter a bear, but added that Manitoba Conservation should be willing to explore methods that will keep bears away from people.

"You’ve got to try anything that works," said Flett, a special needs teacher in Winnipeg.