The Iowa Department of Natural Resources issued a warning this week to members of the public following reports that a black bear had been sighted in the area around the Yellow River Forest, Allamakee County.
Wildlife biologists have expressed concerns at reports that some people may have been feeding the animal. DNR Wildlife Bureau Chief, Dale Garner has strongly advised against this. Bears can become reliant on people for hand outs especially at this time of the year as their natural food sources become scarcer. The animals begin to lose their natural wariness of people and begin to associate them with food. This can become a problem especially around campsites and even more so if the bears start to venture into urban areas. Garner stressed that feeding the bear could not only be very dangerous to those involved but could also lead to the animal being humanely destroyed in the interests of public safety.
The Yellow River Forest area is a good natural habitat for the bear and it should be able to survive perfectly well without assistance from well-meaning humans. Biologists think that the animal is most likely to be a young male bear originally from southern Wisconsin where a wild black bear population already exists.
Black bears are solitary animals and have large territories although they are not aggressively territorial and will overlap happily with other bears. Males can wander anything from a 15 to 80 square mile home range depending upon the availability of food. During the winter months, black bears generally remain dormant in their dens, utilising body fat for nutrition. Preferred den sites are caves, burrows, piles of brush or even tree holes high above the ground.
Black bears in the wild can live for 20 years or more, reaching 5 to 6 feet in length and weigh between 200 to 600 lbs. Whilst black bears are generally timid, there have been 61 killings of humans by black bears since 1900 but these have almost exclusively occurred in very remote and wild areas where bears are not used to human activity.
What to do if you encounter a bear
Try to stay calm and don’t run away. Do not approach the bear but back away slowly and talk to it in a quiet, monotone voice. Do not make sudden movements, scream, run, make direct eye contact or kneel down. Do not climb a tree. Watch the bear and wait for it to make off.
In the unlikely event that the bear approaches you, shout and wave your arms; try to make yourself look as big as possible and throw things. If you’re with a group, make sure that the bear has a clear path to escape and stay together. If the bear remains curious and continues to come towards you, stand your ground. If you have pepper spray; use it.
If you see the bear or require further information, contact Chief Dale Garner, DNR Wildlife Bureau at 515-281-6156.