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Houston, We Have a Problem - UPDATE September 24, 2021

Lucy and cubsLucy and cubsI didn’t think the DNR would resurrect a ban on feeding bears, but Representative Rob Ecklund was at the Eagles Nest Board of Supervisor’s Meeting Tuesday night pushing for legislation banning feeding and saying over and over that the DNR wants it. I don’t know what part of the DNR wants it, but it would lead to a slaughter of the bear clan that Eagles Nest residents have fed for some 60 years. This community has fed bears that long because it worked. The community became known for its lack of bear problems. In years of scarce food, like this year, when bears elsewhere are being shot as nuisances, this community hardly knew it was a bad food year. The bears had diversionary food to keep them out of trouble. A survey in 2007 showed high support for feeding. People actually liked seeing bears as long as they didn’t cause trouble. Seeing bears passing through was not considered trouble. In my recent FOIA request for bear complaints through 2019, I was told there were none from Eagles Nest Community. Then came 2020 and 2021 with severe drought and shriveled berries and hazelnuts and bears coming to the feeding sites in number but staying out of trouble. It was an interesting contrast with what we were hearing from communities that do not do diversionary feeding.

These last two years remind me of the bad food year of 1985 when our studies showed that 6 of ten cubs died, 6 of 7 yearlings died, and mothers were too lean to maintain pregnancies. Some potential mothers then failed to have cubs for up to 4 years.

Minnesota's bear population estimate has now dropped to 10,000 - 12,000, and the state is on record as trying to let the population recover. Estimates in the early 2000’s were 20,000 to 25,000.

In the face of that, there is an effort by Rep. Rob Ecklund within the community to find people who do not want to see bears and are willing to testify in the legislature. It is a fact that people will not coexist with animals they fear. A new housing development has drawn people who are not used to seeing bears, and they are speaking in terror about seeing bears that actually did nothing. The sightings would not be noteworthy to most members of the community. Ecklund is seeking these people to testify that feeding is responsible for the large number of bears seen during the last two years of severe drought and an absence of berries and hazelnuts in the woods.

This 11-minute presentation entitled ‘Can Food Lead Bears Out of Trouble’ was an invited talk at an International Bear Conference a decade ago. Diversionary Feeding: Can food lead black bears out of trouble? In upcoming updates, I’ll give more information on the topic.

A joy today was seeing Lucy and her cubs Desi and Arnie looking healthy. Much more on all this in upcoming updates.

Thank you for all you do.
Lynn Rogers, Biologist, Wildlife Research Institute and North American Bear Center

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