Why bears wander into cities & how they’re caught

Grand Rapids

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — For the black bear that wandered into a southeast Grand Rapids’ neighborhood Sunday, the trip south was a long way and one hard fall from home.

The bear was spotted up in a tree off Horton Avenue SE Sunday morning. Eventually, he fell from the tree after being shot by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources with a tranquilizer dart. Crews then drove him back up north where he belongs.

It is the second time in a little more than a year that a black bear has been spotted in the city of Grand Rapids. One ended up in a tree on the city’s West Side in May 2018.

“You have a line that goes right across Muskegon, Big Rapids up to Bay City, Saginaw, where we don’t really have many bears down (south of that line),” DNR wildlife biologist John Niewoonder explained. “(But) in recent years they’ve been coming south, even in to the Grand Rapids area, a little more regularly.”

The DNR says that’s likely because of a thriving black bear population in the Cadillac and Baldwin areas.

“They’ve got a lot of good cover, a lot of big swamps, a lot of area that’s inaccessible to people. So the bears do well there. A lot of food, a lot of oak trees, acorns,” Niewoonder said.

The young male bears can cover a lot of ground: up to 200 square miles, he said.

“The river is like a perfect freeway for the bears to move up and down, and they’ll follow those through the area to look for new territory,” Tim Sampson, and animal curator at the John Ball Zoo, explained to 24 Hour News 8.

Sampson said it’s important to remember that bears, especially black bears, tend to avoid people. They’re as nervous about you as you might be about them, he said.

“When a bear finds themselves in an area where there’s a lot of people, they just want to go away and they will do everything they can to hide and get away from people,” Sampson said.

When bears do move, it’s in an effort to find food, especially now after hibernation. So the DNR said there are things you can do to help keep the animal in the woods.

“We want people to clean up the bird feeders, keep their grills secure, keep their garbage cans secure if you live in bear country,” Niewoonder said. “Otherwise it’s just too tempting for them.”

The DNR has increased the number of permits it has issued for bear hunting in the Baldwin area in recent years. Niewoonder said it’s important to manage the population so what happened Sunday in Grand Rapids doesn’t happen more often.

When a bear does end up in a tree in a populated area, Niewoonder said the best-case scenario r is that everyone gets back, the bear comes down on its own and the DNR is able to guide it from a distance back into the wild. But in an urban area, like Grand Rapids, that obviously won’t work.

The DNR does, however, try to avoid hard falls for the bears after they’re sedated.

“The best situation is the bear … falls asleep in the tree. We climb up, put a rope on it, lower it down,” he explained.

That way almost worked last year on the Grand Rapids’ West Side. The bear was tranquilized but then slipped out of the harness.

The DNR won’t is tranquilize a bear more than 40 feet high or one with a structure or hard objects below. They typically won’t use a net to catch a falling bear, as that could put people at risk below, or lure a bear with food, as the DNR doesn’t want the bear returning the area.

Sampson said ultimately, the bears are tougher than you might think.

“They do climb trees quite a bit when they’re looking for food as well as to seek shelter or safety, but trees aren’t always secure so they do fall out of trees quite often actually,” he explained. “They can take a pretty good fall without any injury. And then being sedated, they’re a little more relaxed so that helps out as well.”

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