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Duluth Bear - UPDATE December 15, 2021

A nice article in the Duluth News Tribune today was about the bear denning in Duluth. Below the article is more about the situation based on information on bears over the years.


Congdon bear shows face, then hunkers down

Duluth neighborhood bear hibernating under family's front yard.
Written By: John Myers | 10:04 am, Dec. 14, 2021 

Duluth Bear
 A black bear that dug a den under a front yard in Duluth's Congdon neighborhood has apparently decided to hibernate there for the winter. After coming and going for several weeks from the den, he hasn't come out since the last major snowfall.
Contributed / Jeanette Anderson

Duluth’s semi-famous, late-hibernating black bear has shown its face, but not for long, and now appears to have finally hunkered down for its winter nap.

The bear, which dug its den under the Anderson family's front yard in the Congdon neighborhood sometime in November, hasn’t been seen since the season’s first big snowfall Dec. 5.

Before that, the bear had been making nightly excursions to neighbors' garbage cans, gardens and front steps to find trash, pumpkins and anything else edible.

Jeanette Anderson received some advice from independent bear researcher Lynn Rogers, of Ely, who came down to look at the den. Some friends of Anderson purchased and set up two trail cameras on trees near the den, just in time before the bear decided to stay underground.

The cameras captured the bear emerging from the den for just a few minutes on one night.

“It’s as if he came up and knew something was different with the cameras flashing and then decided to go back down and stay,” Anderson said. “There haven't been any tracks in the snow.”

Most northern Minnesota bears go into hibernation by mid-October, with some as early as September and maybe a few as late as November. But Martha Minchak, assistant area wildlife manager for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, said Duluth bears, maybe due to the easy access to ample human food, seem to stay up later, leading to nuisance bear calls all winter in some cases.

Upon seeing photos of the Congdon bear, Rogers, who helped form the North American Bear Center in Ely and has studied bears for more than 50 years, said the bear under Andersons' yard appears in good shape.

“I can’t tell if it is a male or a female. I’d guess the weight at 200-250 from the look of the head, ears and body,” Rogers told the News Tribune. “If it’s a male, that would make it an adolescent at 3-5 years old, depending on how well fed he has been. If it is a female, she could have cubs in January.”

Duluth Bear
A trail camera photo of a black bear with its paw up on a retaining wall next to the den it dug under a Congdon neighborhood front yard. The bear came out for a few minutes early Dec. 5, 2021, but hasn't come back out since the big snowfall later that day.
Contributed / Jeanette Anderson

Rogers said most bears hibernate on schedule, even if extra food is available, and said the Congdon bear is an outlier for staying active into December. Most bears would emerge from the den in spring, often in April. But with this bear, it's anyone's guess.

Rogers, who looked deep into the den while visiting the site earlier this month, said there is a vast area underground for the bear to call home. The den is marked by a retaining wall on one side and a series of large, underground openings created by big chunks of rock, apparently deposited there when the neighborhood was developed 100 years ago.

Duluth Bear
This black bear, photographed by a trail camera, hasn't been seen out of its den since Dec. 5, 2021.
Contributed / Jeanette Anderson

Rogers said the bear likely poses no threat to people, and he hopes people won’t be a problem for the bear. Unlike many cities where a bear would be an unusual curiosity, Duluth has had plenty of bear visits and bear residents of its own.

“Duluthians have seen enough bears that they are unusually tolerant. I remember a big male that was eating a deer carcass right beside the Lakewalk some years ago. People walked past the bear, rode bicycles past the bear, or were walking their dogs. The bear ignored them, and the people enjoyed the experience,” Rogers said. “Some stopped to take photographs to send me and then continued on.”

Anderson said that, after a News Tribune story on the bear earlier this month, some people have figured out where the bear den is and have come to ogle the 24-inch hole in her yard. Now, she hopes people will just let the bear sleep this winter. She’s considering putting up a "No Trespassing" sign to encourage people to stay away from the den.

“I would hope now he feels safe and can winter right there,’’ she said. “I don't want to create a nuisance bear. But I’m not going to throw him out at this point. I’m really hoping no harm comes to it.”

John Myers reports on the outdoors, environment and natural resources for the Duluth News Tribune.

Duluth Bear
A photo from a trail camera of a black bear that's apparently hiberating under a yard in Duluth's Congdon neighborhood.
Contributed / Jeanette Anderson

Previously In the Duluth News Tribune:
Bear moves in under Duluth front yard

Related Articles: 
After adventurous day, Duluth City Hall bear moves on
Bear attracts crowd during Duluth Civic Center ramble
Drowsy bear draws a crowd along Duluth Lakewalk


Previously, I wrote:

I can’t tell if it is a male or a female. I’d guess the weight at 200-250 from the look of the head, ears, and body. If it’s a male, that would make it an adolescent at 3-5 years old depending on how well fed he has been. If it is a female, she could have cubs in January.

I don’t know why it is so active this late. Pregnant females are usually the first to den, usually in September or early October and occasionally in the last week of August. For most other bears it is mid-October. Denning in early November is very uncommon, although we did see that this year for a yearling male.

Around Ely, bears generally den up in September or October whether supplemental food is available or not. With so little fall food (Oaks are uncommon and there is little fall food around Ely here on the Canadian Shield where soils are shallow, sandy, and gravelly), they would be wasting energy. Down closer to Lake Superior, south of the Canadian Shield, the Superior Lobe of the Wisconsin Episode deposited much more fertile, deeper, more loamy soils that produce more food (especially acorns) due to the fertile soil and the lake effects of Lake Superior. But I doubt if the short distance between Ely and Duluth is enough for bears to have evolved a genetic difference in denning times. A fact I should work in is that in the Eastern deciduous forest in the Eastern US, bears will stay up all winter pawing through the snow for acorns, beechnuts, and hickory nuts in years of good crops, but bears in northeastern Minnesota generally don’t respond to supplemental food (garbage, bird feeders, and deliberate feeding) by staying up longer than usual.

I really have no explanation for this bear staying up so late. For most behaviors, there is a bell-shaped curve with a few bears out in each tail. This bear is far out in a tail.

From what I could see of the den when I visited it, the hole goes down to an underground labyrinth created maybe a century ago when the Congdon neighborhood was being developed. The bear discovered this refuge and comes out in the middle of the night when the neighborhood is quietest. Now that this phenomenon has been discovered, I hope it can continue. I haven’t heard of any bears being a problem because of it. I hope everyone can let the bear be, maybe give birth to a litter this winter, and have people excited to see the family that gave birth in their neighborhood. Duluth is a special city that has long tolerated bears in neighborhoods, along the lake walk, and in other dens I have heard of.

I know many people fear mothers that have cubs, but that reputation is from grizzly mothers. Mother black bears are not the danger they are reputed to be, especially where they are accustomed to people.

On that note, an old fear-based belief is that bears become more likely to attack when they become accustomed to people. I have tested that old belief for decades and actually the opposite is true. When wild mothers and others became accustomed to my presence, they tended to ignore me and go about their lives with me nearby (1 to 15 yards away) recording more details of black bear life than had ever been possible. Top USFS officials tested the safety of my work and gave me permission in 1989 to use volunteers to gather even more data that they could use in forest management. I trained nearly 200 volunteers to gather data, and these people who had no previous experience with bears accompanied the bears without a problem.

Duluthians have seen enough bears that they are unusually tolerant. I remember a big male that was eating a deer carcass right beside the lakewalk some years ago. People walked past the bear, rode bicycles past the bear, or were walking their dogs. The bear ignored them, and the people enjoyed the experience. Some stopped to take photographs to send me and then continued on.

Today, a resident of this den area who is copied on this email wrote “We're hoping this is a wonderful opportunity for people to learn about the behaviors of black bears and not see this bear as a threat. Seeing the still images and the still images combined to form videos, it appears like this bear is pretty curious and cautious. Just the sort of shy bear I would want in my front yard.

Thank you for all you do. I hope this bear fares well.
Lynn Rogers, Biologist, Wildlife Research Institute and North American Bear Center


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