Bears in suburbs: DNR says leave them alone unless they’re a threat

June 9, 2014

by Chris Schultz

From the DNR

Mosquitoes aren’t the only unwelcome visitors showing up around the metro region lately, as several suburban communities recently have reported bears, leading the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources to ask for the public’s cooperation in dealing with nuisance wildlife.

While a Twin Cities suburb may seem an unlikely place to see a bear, such sightings are not uncommon, especially in the spring.

Most such bears are young males searching for their own territory after emerging from hibernation and being chased off by their parents.

If left alone, they will often move on to an area with fewer people and less opportunity for problems.

Occasionally, however, a bear shows up in a heavily populated area and presents a public safety threat.

Such situations should be reported to the local law enforcement agency, which may need to dispatch the bear.

Bears that show up inside the Interstate 494/694 loop are generally considered a public safety threat because of the dense human population and the amount of roads and traffic.

“A public safety threat is a public safety threat, whether it’s a guy wielding a knife or a startled or frightened large mammal with big teeth and sharp claws in a neighborhood with lots of kids,” said Capt. Greg Salo. “Your first call should be to the local police department. No one likes to see these animals killed just for being in the wrong place at the wrong time, but sometimes that’s the only real option.”

Salo pointed out that shooting a bear with a tranquilizer dart, then transporting it elsewhere is mostly Hollywood fiction.

Chemical immobilization requires special equipment, training and access to controlled substances.

Most DNR staff don’t have that. Even if they did, the effect of the tranquilizer is not immediate, so a darted bear could run into a crowd or a busy street before passing out. Furthermore, finding a suitable place for relocation can be a challenge.

Once a bear is habituated to human derived food, it is likely to repeat this feeding behavior if released elsewhere.

Sometimes bears don’t recover from the tranquilizing and handling ordeal.

“That kind of stuff looks good in the movies, but it doesn’t work that way in the real world,” Salo said. “What’s more, dealing with one bear like that would wind up taking a conservation officer away from other duties for a day or more at one of our busiest times of year time when Minnesotans are recreating outdoors by the hundreds. We just don’t have the capacity for that. It wouldn’t be the best use of our time.”

The best way to resolve human-bear conflicts is to do everything possible to avoid them in the first place, said Cynthia Osmundson, DNR central region wildlife manager. In areas where bears have been reported, it’s best to eliminate or secure anything the bear may smell and consider as food: bird feeders, garbage, pet food and grills, for instance. Once a bear finds food at a particular location, it’s likely to return.

If a bear shows up in a backyard, it’s usually best to leave it alone until it leaves, Osmundson said.

Standing around gawking is risky, and it may cause the bear to take refuge up a tree. If it is treed, remove people and dogs, and wait for it to leave after dark.

Bears usually are as wary of humans as we are of them.

While bear attacks on humans in Minnesota are very rare, they should always be treated as a wild animal that’s capable of inflicting serious harm.

“In a way, we’re lucky here in the metro region to have the woods and wetlands and open spaces that provide habitat for so many species of wildlife, even the occasional bear,” Osmundson said. “But living with wildlife means taking a few extra steps if we want to avoid conflicts. Nobody likes it when a bear has to be put down, least of all the DNR. Hopefully we can work together to make that a rare occurrence.”

For more information about living with bears and other wildlife, visit www.mndnr.gov, or contact a DNR area wildlife manager.

New online look makes it easy to find the MN state park that’s the best fit
From the DNR

Just in time for National Get Outdoors Day – coming up Saturday, June 14 – the Department of Natural Resources is rolling out a new tool to help plan an outdoor adventure at a Minnesota state park or recreation area.

Looking for a Minnesota state park with a swimming beach, a bike trail and drive-in campsites? Or a park with an accessible camper cabin and fishing pier?

ParkFinder – as the new, interactive tool is called – can help people find which of Minnesota’s state parks and recreation areas best match their needs and interests.

In just a few clicks, users can enter search criteria, view the results and make a reservation.

“With 75 Minnesota state parks and recreation areas to choose from, we know some people don’t quite know where to start,” said Erika Rivers, director of the Parks and Trails Division. “This new tool will make trip planning quicker and easier than ever. It’s an example of how the DNR’s Parks and Trails Division is using technology to provide better customer service.”

Search options include where to find:

• Nature programs.
• Trails – including hiking, biking, horse, ski and snowmobile trails.
• Rental equipment – including canoes, kayaks, stand-up paddleboards, cross-country skis and snowshoes.
• Overnight camping and lodging facilities – including drive-in, cart-in and canoe-in campsites; RV sites; camper cabins and more.
• Amenities – such as beaches, playgrounds, fishing piers and picnic shelters, including which ones are accessible to wheelchairs and other mobility-assist devices.

ParkFinder was designed and developed by the Parks and Trails Division in collaboration with the DNR’s Information Technology staff and can be found on the DNR website at www.mndnr.gov/parkfinder.

Entry to all Minnesota state parks and recreation areas is free on National Get Outdoors Day, and many of them have planned special activities to introduce kids and families to the fun of geocaching, kayaking, camping and other types of outdoor recreation.

For more information, visit www.dnr.state.mn.us/state_parks/getoutdoorsday.html or contact the DNR Information Center at info.dnr@state.mn.us or 651-296-6157 or 888-646-6367 between 8 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday.

Rivers and lakes: high and moving fast
From the DNR

Following recent rains across the state, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources urges boaters, paddlers and swimmers to not let their guard down. Lake, river and stream water levels are high and moving fast.

“People should always wear their lifejackets every time they step on a boat and especially during times of high water,” said Kara Owens, DNR boating safety specialist.

A no-wake zone is currently in effect on the St. Croix River from Taylors Falls to Prescott. The Minneapolis locks on the Mississippi River are closed to recreational traffic. High water has been declared on Lake Minnetonka.

“High water levels mean a fast and strong moving current, which many boat operators and swimmers are not used to, and that can create dangerous situations,” Owens said.

The swift current also makes it more difficult for even an experienced swimmer to swim or stay afloat if their boat or canoe capsized.

Boaters should also be aware with high water more debris is in the water.

“Debris will often float just at or below the surface. Hitting a log at high speed could result in anything from a broken propeller to a ruined lower unit -- or worse, serious injuries to those who wanted to enjoy a day on the water,” said Owens.

So far this year, one person has died in a boating accident and six people have drowned in Minnesota.

Owens said 10 lives could be saved in Minnesota each year if people just wore their life jackets.

The DNR recommends these safety tips for boaters:

• Wear a U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jacket.
• Do not overload the boat.
• If boat capsizes, try to reboard or stay with it until rescuers arrive.
• Go boating with a friend. Boating safety increases with numbers.
• Tell someone the boating destination and planned return time.

For more information, visit DNR website at www.dnr.state.mn.us/safety/boatwater/index.html.

MN turtles now crossing roads to fin a place to nest
From the DNR

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources is reminding people that turtles crossing roads now are often moving to familiar nesting locations.

Allowing turtles to cross the roads is vital to the preservation of regional populations.

“Many turtles and other species are killed on Minnesota roads each year, especially during the nesting season,” said Carol Hall, DNR herpetologist, “In fact, roadway mortality is believed to be a major factor in turtle population declines throughout the United States.”

In Minnesota, where all turtles are mainly aquatic, overland journeys usually occur: in connection with seasonal movements between different wetland habitats; during the annual early summer nesting migration of egg laden females; or when newly hatched youngsters seek out the backwaters and ponds for their permanent home. Turtles can travel many miles during a single year, and may even be found far from water.

Giving Turtles a Hand

The following points should be remembered:

• Think safety. Simply pulling off the road and turning on hazard lights may alert other drivers to slow down. Be aware of surroundings and traffic.
• Avoid excessive handling. While wanting to inspect turtles closely is understandable, excessive handling can disrupt normal behavior. Prolonged examination of turtles should therefore be limited to only one or two individuals of each species.
• Allow unassisted road crossings. When turtles can safely cross roads unaided due to a lack of oncoming traffic, allow them to do so. Observe from a distance and avoid rapid movements, as doing otherwise will often cause turtles to change direction, stop, or seek shelter within their shells.
• Handle turtles gently. If necessary to pick them up, all turtles except Snappers and Softshells (“leatherbacks” - see link below for more information on these species that may bite when picked up) should be grasped gently along the shell edge near the mid-point of the body. Be advised that many turtles empty their bladder when lifted off the ground, so be careful not to drop them if they should suddenly expel water.
• Maintain direction of travel. Always move turtles in the same direction they were traveling in when encountered. Turtles should always be moved across roadways in as direct a line as possible. It may seem helpful to “assist” the turtle in its journey by moving them to a nearby waterbody, but it is important to remember the phrase, “If you care, leave it there.”
• Transportation and parks departments can help turtles by not mowing ditches during peak nesting season (typically late May to early July in Minnesota), as many turtles like to nest on the elevated roadway shoulders. If mowing is absolutely necessary, an 8-inch deck-height is recommended.

For more information, visit www.dnr.state.mn.us/reptiles_amphibians/helping-turtles-roads.html.

Blasting away aquatic plants may not be legal
From the DNR

Products that create water currents to push away plants and debris from docks and shoreline should not be used to move sediment or excavate the bottom of a lake or river, according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

“Some companies have advertised that their products can ‘blast away’ mucky lake bottom without a permit,” said Steve Enger, DNR aquatic plant management supervisor. “Property owners need to be aware that use of these and similar products could expose them to a citation.”

Products can resemble a fan or trolling motor contained in a short tube, and operate by creating strong currents of moving water. They are not always illegal, but consumers should use caution when considering any kind of aquatic plant removal. If the product is moving sediment, the manner of operation is likely not allowed.

“When directed at a lake bottom these products can uproot aquatic plants and cause plumes or clouds of disturbed sediment to drift down the shoreline, interfering with other people’s enjoyment of the lake and possibly covering spawning areas with a layer of sediment,” said Enger.

Aquatic plants are important to lakes. They help maintain water clarity, prevent erosion, stabilize the bottom sediments and provide habitat for fish and wildlife. While it is possible to legally remove some aquatic plants, oftentimes permits are required. For permit and other information on the DNR’s aquatic plant management program, visit www.mndnr.gov/apm.

For more information on aquatic plant regulations, visit www.mndnr.gov/shorelandmgmt/apg/regulations.html.

Question of the week
From the DNR

• Q: How many life jackets do I need in my boat, and am I required to wear one?

A: A readily accessible U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jacket is required for each person on all boats including canoes, kayaks and stand-up paddleboards.

A Type IV throwable device is also required on boats more than 16 feet.

Children under 10 years old must wear a life jacket while a boat is underway unless the child is in an enclosed cabin, aboard a passenger vessel operated by a licensed captain, or on a boat that is anchored for the purpose of swimming or diving.

The life jacket also must be the appropriate size for the wearer.

CO weekly report
From the DNR

• CO Brian Mies (Annandale) checked anglers.
CO Mies worked on tip calls on over limits cases.
CO Mies worked AIS work crew.
CO Mies checked boaters and handled nuisance animal calls dealing with loons, bear and beaver.

• CO Steve Walter (Waconia) responded to several calls of bow fishermen dumping carp on private property, road ditches and even in the middle of roads.
Watercraft operators were checked for safety equipment, drain plug removal and transportation of invasive species. Several animal calls were handled reminding people to leave young animals alone.

• CO Brett Oberg (Hutchinson) spent time checking anglers along the MN River.
More people seemed to be out mushroom hunting than fishing.
ATV and AIS enforcement was also worked in the MN River Valley.