The Bears of Newaygo County
By Ken DeLaat
Many thanks to photo sharers: Jodi Breuker Wilburn, Rob Benson, Emily Burrell, Beahany Acton, Krystalynn Cubitt, Marcy Wojciakowski Southwick, Sandy Taber Scherphorn, Diane Flaherty-Graff, Julie Berwald, Caitie Wilk, and others who contributed.
The bears have always been with us. Years ago sightings would be spoken of over coffee at local eateries on occasion and close encounter stories might get shared after a few beers at one of the bars.
Then came the advent of social media exposing us to a significantly wider community while technological advances delivered high quality phone cameras, trail cameras and such . Soon these bear glimpses began to be a sporadically erupting subject eventually evolving into more regular appearances.
Now these past few months it seems we have suddenly been swept up by ursamania.
Social media is filled with the adventures of the three pawed Momma with her cubs and lone bear sightings occuring in such widespread parts of the county seem to indicate its not just one or two amorous males with faulty homing mechanisms in search of dates for the season.
Residents just a few miles away from N3 World Headquarters have experienced thickly coated bestial brunettes deck dancing, feeder frolicking and just plain making themselves at home.
What does this proliferation of sightings mean? Are the bears looking to move here en masse to establish a strong political base in order to push forward their agenda?
And what would that agenda be?
Look, I know it depends on the individual bear and all but as a species can they really be trusted?
In their recent annual ‘bear memo’ press release the DNR began by recognizing that West Michigan has an expanding bear population and that Newaygo County (yes, us) is now considered ‘bear country’ according to Wildlife Biologist Pete Kailing from the Paris Field Office.
“Citizens will need to be aware of that and take a few precautions to avoid accidentally attracting bears.,” said Kailing. “The best way to avoid issues with black bears is to never feed them. A fed bear often becomes a dead bear.”
Wow. So it sounds less like a political agenda than a hunger/food thing to me. I’ve known people over the years who I can imagine wandering into new territory if they were hungry enough. I recall one night attempting to get an acquaintance who had been visiting far too long to leave by not feeding him but he opened a new bag of chips he took right out of my cupboard without even a momentary consideration about asking. It was if he was caught up in an instinctual gathering phase with minimal forethought in play. Weird, I know, and truth be told so was he.
But I digress.
The DNR details some helpful tips for avoiding conflicts with bears around homes and camps and we add a bit of feedback because, well, because we find bears fascinating.
Never intentionally feed bears.
And if you need this advice the rest of this guide will likely elude you.
Remove potential food sources, like bird feeders and bird suet, from your yard. Do not feed wild birds in the spring, summer and fall, when bears are most active.
This one hurts for folks who love to keep tabs on their feathered friends year round but seriously if one only feeds in winter most years in this peninsular paradise winter can be close to being nearly year round anyway.
Keep pet food inside or in a secured area.
As well as small pets who might be protective of said food one imagines.
Keep garbage and odor at a minimum by removing trash often and cleaning the can or other container used for garbage. Keep garbage in a secured area or in a secured container with a metal, lockable lid until it is picked up or taken away.
“One man’s trash..” as the saying goes. I imagine after grubbing about for some roots and berries hitting an unprotected pail of what humans toss away food-wise is like cutting loose a ravenous group of teenage boys on an all you can eat buffet line.
Keep grills and picnic tables clean.
Have you ever camped near folks who didn’t do this in bear country? I have. It doesn’t make for easy sleeping.
Bee hives (apiaries), fruit trees and gardens can be protected from bears by electric fencing.
My hunch is the average bear (not Yogi who is said to be smarter than the average bear) doesn’t have the table manners of Pooh when it comes to honey. Bears have been described many ways but dainty has never been one I’ve seen used so in quest of honey the hive likely takes a bit of a beating.
Make noise to scare bears out of your yard or around your home: but do not approach bears.
I would definitely make noise...mostly a prepubescent scream while bolting in the direction of any port of safety.
Good work DNR. This all looks like good advice to me but if I were to be totally honest?
I really want to see one.
I never went to the dump in the UP to see them like other kids talked about doing back in the day and never have bumped into one when enjoying our peninsular partner to the north.
So yeah, I want to see one.
And when I do?
I’d greatly prefer it to be from a bit of a distance.
Courageous? Not on your life.
Get more information on Michigan black bears at www.michigan.gov/dnr
Letter to the Editor Policy
Near North Now welcomes original letters from readers on current topics of general interest. Simply fill out the form below. Letters submissions are limited to 300 words.