Wednesday, February 8th, 2023
Wednesday, February 8th, 2023

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Wisconsin black bears ‘bear-ly’ a problem

Editor

Yogi Bear and his sidekick, Boo Boo, made their living in a
children’s cartoon by swiping food from tourists visiting their
fictional Jellystone Park. These days, Wisconsin’s very real black
bears better make a living on their own, or they could be taking a
ride inside a culvert trap to a new home.

The USDA Wildlife Services team works out of Sun Prairie,
Waupun, and Rhinelander to respond to all kinds of animal
complaints ranging from beavers to cormorants to wolves and black
bears.

Each spring, black bear nuisance complaints start rolling in as
bears leave the den. First it’s the big boars, followed by the sows
with small cubs. Now, as the black bear breeding season begins, the
displaced yearlings begin appearing in backyards across the state,
according to Anita Nelson, who is known as the “Bear Lady” at the
Rhinelander USDA Wildlife Services office.

“The yearlings will be around because they get kicked out by the
females during the breeding season, so they will get hung up on the
first food source, which is usually a bird feeder,” Nelson
said.

Bear complaints used to be restricted to northern Wisconsin, but
that’s no longer the case, as bears continue to move into central
and southern counties. Dan Hirchert, of Waupun, is the acting
supervisor for the Wildlife Services Southern District. Hirchert’s
crews trapped a bear two weeks ago in Green Bay, while two other
bears were sighted in Westfield in Marquette County and in De Soto
on the border of Vernon and Crawford counties.

“The Green Bay bear went through commercial areas and hung out
behind Circuit City. We set a trap on either side of the area, and
it went into one of the traps towards dusk,” said Hirchert. That
bear was moved to a forested area north of Green Bay and
released.

“We’re starting to get more bear activity in the central part of
the state. People in southern Wisconsin aren’t used to living with
bears. It’s new thing for them, and it becomes a spectacle. It’s
not that big of a deal up north, but it is quite a big deal down
here,” he said.

Back in April, Wildlife Services trappers caught a bear in Clark
County that had hibernated right behind a house. When the bear came
out of the den, it tried crawling up onto the house via the outside
air conditioning unit. The bear knocked the A/C unit off the
concrete pad. That bear was quickly trapped and moved. Another bear
kept emptying maple sap buckets. Now, bears are moving to bee
hives.

“It appears that the numbers of bear complaints are going to at
least match last year’s, but we’re just getting going,” Hirchert
said.

Bob Willging of Rhinelander is the Wildlife Services Northern
District supervisor. He expects complaints to increase now that
state, county, and private campgrounds are open, along with summer
camps and resorts.

“The calls always peak after Memorial Day when people start
using campgrounds and cottages, then things level off until fall,
when the agriculture complaints start coming in,” Willging
said.

Nelson, who handles all of the bear complaint calls for the
Wildlife Services Northern District, said ag complaints pick up in
early fall, as corn and oats ripens.

“As soon as the corn reaches the milk stage and gets that high
sugar content, bears will appear almost overnight in the fields,”
she said.

Willging, Hirchert, and Nelson said spring nuisance complaints,
are almost all related to a food source. They suggest removing the
food source for two to three weeks. Take down bird feeders,
hummingbird feeders, and put garbage cans and charcoal and gas
grills in the garage.

“Some people try to invent bear-proof feeders, but they will
come to food knocked on the ground out of the feeders,” Willging
said.

Most of the bears that are trapped and moved come from crop
damage complaints. Most nuisance problems can be cleared up by
removing a food source that’s attracting bears.

In 2003, Wildlife Services received 1,339 total complaints,
including 1,037 nuisance complaints and 127 crop damage complaints.
A total of 559 bears were trapped and relocated 224 on ag damage
and 265 on nuisance calls. Willging said the trappers might trap
and move 10 or more bears from one ag complaint.

USDA Wildlife Services contacts: Northern District, supervisor
Bob Willging, Rhinelander, call (800) 228-1368; Southern District,
acting supervisor Dan Hirchert, Waupun, call (800) 433 0663.

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