Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Black Bears in the Twin Cities Metro

Posted by Kirk

This is a photo of a black bear that showed up at the feeders a few years back at the nature center where I work. On any given day I assume there are black bears in the woods but it isn't something I think about that much or worry about. Just today the kids asked me, "Are there bears in the woods here?" I told them that there sure are bears but we never see them because they are much too afraid of us. That's true. The only time we see bears at the nature center is long after all the screaming kids have left and no one is outside. They know when we're out and about and keep far away. The only reason I was able to get this photo was that I was inside and the bear couldn't see me. I think that bear is just gorgeous.

There was another story in the news last week about a bear being shot in the two cities metro. A black bear wandered into North St. Paul. For those readers not from the Twin Cities, North St. Paul is a city to the north of the capital city, St. Paul. It isn't just the north part of the city of St. Paul. Still though, this is not a rural area. North St. Paul is a fairly typical suburb.

To get an idea of how developed this area is check out this map. The bear no doubt came from less developed areas to the northeast but there's a lot of developed area out there it had to cross. This bear somehow crossed Interstate 694!

View Larger Map

According to the Associated Press story, DNR officers shot bean bags at the bear to scare it down from a tree. This seemed pretty unsuccessful as it took 90 minutes for the bear to decide to come down to the ground where the animals with guns were shooting at it. Apparently, the bear was near an elementary school so state policy is to shoot the bear as it could be a public threat. I was able to dig up that the bear was near the corner of 13th and Margaret Street and was surprised when I read that. The elementary school in question is one I go to every year to do classroom outreach. There are a number of other schools very close by as well.

The bear was shot and killed. The DNR says they didn't have time to prepare tranquilizer equipment before the bear came down from the tree. I'm not sure I buy that story since they say that they were shooting bean bags at the bear for 90 minutes before it came down. I don't have a lot of experience with tranquilizer guns but I'm assuming they don't take more than 90 minutes to load.

Still, I'm not saying they made the wrong decision. Many people think bears that wander into suburban neighborhoods should be simply moved and not killed. It isn't so simple though. Where should they be moved to? Suitable bear habitat is likely already taken up by other bears That is exactly why young bears wander into the suburbs, the suitable habitat nearby is already taken and they are looking for new territory. Transporting them further away doesn't change this equation. It causes me sadness to admit this but they probably did the right thing. I hate the idea that there is a "right" and "wrong" place for nature and that we can't tolerate wildlife living near us but that ignores the real habitat needs of the bears as well.

Bears can't really be left alone in the suburbs. A suburban landscape of backyards, shopping centers and schools is not appropriate habitat and a negative human-bear encounter will eventually happen. The bears are fine out here at the nature center even with our 15,000 visitors a year because they have many square miles of woods where they can go to be alone and as far from us as possible.

Unfortunately, there are more of us every year and less habitat for bears. I expect we'll be seeing more of this in the coming years.



Out Walking the Dog said...

I know this is an older post, but I just discovered it, and it is on a subject dear to me: interactions of wildlife and humans in urban, or near-urban, areas. A terrific post, discussing an increasingly important issue.

In NYC this past winter, we have had several coyotes right in Manhattan in addition to those that are resident in the Bronx. Black bears are all over the New Jersey suburbs now. All over the country, these interactions are on the rise as habitat is destroyed. Animals have nowhere to go but into human territory. We are going to need to seriously evaluate how to manage predators in our suburbs and cities. Chicago's Cook County Coyote Project is a great model for the kind of research that we need more of.

Kirk said...

Thanks for the comment Melissa. You're right, only more to come.