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Late spring prompts more bear complaints

Posted Wednesday, May 3, 2023 7:14 pm
Marshall Helmberger

REGIONAL— It’s been a long winter, and not just for the human residents of the North Country. Black bears are emerging from their long winter naps hungrier than usual, and with the late snow melt they’re finding little in the way of natural foods to recover after several months without eating.

And that’s got at least a few bears turning to other sources of potential food, like bird

feeders and other animal feed put out by local livestock growers, causing damage at

residences mostly in the Tower area.

“We had a big bear on the property Thursday night,” said Becky Gawboy, who raises a

variety of livestock just south of Tower. “It destroyed the inside of the pig yard, ripped

off the door, and sent the pigs running. They were gone for days.” The big bruin also

tipped over the Gawboy’s bird feeder, and pulled down a peanut feeder that was hung eight feet up in the air. “He just trashed everything everywhere he went,” said Gawboy.

The bear was a repeat offender, showing up the next day. But Gawboy said all her

animals and various sources of food had been moved to the barn by then, relatively

safe behind locked doors.

The bear was also back on Monday night this week, and pulled down the one

remaining peanut feeder, which was nearly empty.

Jessica Holmes, DNR Tower Area wildlife manager, said the problem appears to be a

localized one this spring. “There’s a local bear that’s creating a lot of havoc, including

here at the DNR office,” said Holmes. She said bears often turn to easy sources of food

in the spring, especially before some of the spring greens start emerging. “But we’re

hearing no widespread complaints. It appears to be a pretty isolated situation.”

The problem bear hasn’t been content to wreak havoc at just one location. Just down

the road from Gawboys, what appears to be the same bear has left Lisa Anderson and

her family feeling almost trapped inside their house, fearful of going outside without a gun. Anderson said she first saw the big bear while coming home from Tower on

Saturday evening. She turned into her driveway to see it standing in the middle of the

drive, looking at her. She honked the horn, but rather than running away as she

expected, the bear scratched at the dirt, squatted, and defecated, producing what she described as an enormous pile of partially digested black oil sunflower seeds.

Rather than try to make a run for the house, she drove away for a while, hoping the

bear would leave. Instead, it went on a rampage, ripping down fences that house her

sizable flocks of chickens, ducks, geese, and guinea hens. It’s also caused damage to

fences that contain her horses, and left them unusually skittish.

Anderson said the bear has returned repeatedly since then. She’s tried using

firecrackers and pistol shots to scare the bear away, mostly without effect. While the

bear’s initial foray onto her property seemed to focus on accessing animal feed, she

was petrified when it ventured onto her deck the other night, concerned that it would try to gain entry to the house. “There is no food there, so the only reason to come on the deck would be to break in,” she said.

Anderson said she contacted the Department of Natural Resources and spoke to a

conservation officer who told her that the agency no longer relocates

Anderson said that isn’t the answer she was looking for. “I want it gone, I don’t want it

dead,” she said. In the meantime, she said she doesn’t go outside without a gun right

now just in case the bear shows up.

While most residents haven’t seen the kind of damage experienced by Anderson or

Gawboy, bears have been showing up at residences all around the area. Bears, of

various sizes, have been frequent visitors around homes in Tower and elsewhere,

scrounging for anything edible, but most damage, if any, has been minor.

Anderson said the conservation officer she spoke with told her that the situation would improve in the next few weeks as things start to green up and bears turn their

attention elsewhere for food.

While the bear will eventually move on, neither Anderson nor Gawboy is interested in

waiting around if the bear is going to continue to cause damage. Gawboy said if the

bear shows up during daylight, she’ll solve the problem— permanently.

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