South metro fields flurry of bear sightings

Bear wounded in Savage has traveled east, the DNR says, but it isn’t a danger for now. A different bear has been spotted in Woodbury.

The black bear shot and wounded by Savage police in late May isn’t on the state Department of Natural Resources’ (DNR) most-wanted list and isn’t likely to be killed unless it becomes a nuisance or a public safety hazard, even after another round of sightings this week, officials said Tuesday.

DNR Capt. Greg Salo said that although the young male has been sighted multiple times in Eagan and Burnsville since Sunday, the agency hopes it just moves on — and out of the metro area — by itself.

The most important thing people can do is this: “Bring the garbage in, bring in the barbecue grill, the bird feeder,” Salo said. “Take the food source away. If you don’t and they stay in the metro, they’re going to become habituated to humans. Once we hit that point, they become a public safety threat and … the bear is put down.”

Eagan police said dispatchers fielded four bear sightings on Tuesday, the last at 10:36 a.m. near Cliff and Johnny Cake Ridge roads. About 11:45 p.m. Monday, an Eagan officer spotted it near Slater and Rusten roads.

Police said the bear has not exhibited any aggressive behavior. And Salo said it’s not likely to be more aggressive because it was wounded in a rear leg.

“Quite honestly, a lot of animals survive with leg injuries,” he said. “My advice is let it be. The DNR is not out looking for this bear. We’re hoping it moves on on its own.”

Several bear sightings have been reported in Woodbury in recent days; authorities say that’s a different bear.

Five or six bears are spotted in the metro area each year, mostly in the spring; most are young males, searching for their own territory after coming out of winter hibernation and being chased off by other bears. The bears feed at night out of garbage cans or bird feeders and have nowhere to go to sleep off the feast during the day.

“It may sound like a ton of bears in the metro, but really we’ve dealt with the same number as last year, three or four. But one bear … can make it sound like there’s 12,” Salo said.

Burnsville police said the bear was sighted Sunday night near Interstate 35E. It was gone by the time officers arrived, police said. Before that, it was seen Thursday afternoon behind a Kwik Trip gas station on Hwy. 42 and Vernon Avenue in Savage.

The male bear, between 150 and 200 pounds and about 18 months old, had been seen several times over the Memorial Day weekend in Savage, including May 23 in the packed Town and Country Campground. After that sighting, police shot and wounded the bear in a nearby neighborhood because it was so close to campers.

Salo said a bear isn’t likely to be aggressive unless it’s cornered and has no way out, such as being trapped in a tree with gawkers below.

“I don’t know of any instance where somebody was killed by a black bear,” he said. “We’ve had encounters with a mother and cubs, but that’s an entirely different situation. Bears don’t actively hunt humans.”

Salo said back in 1985, the DNR had to kill 400 bears statewide because of nuisance or aggressive behavior. Last year, that number was 25. The huge drop is likely due to education efforts.

“What we’ve tried to do is educate people on removing those food sources and just enjoy the bear,” he said. “Just because a bear is walking through your back yard, it is not a safety threat. You go north of the metro an hour and people live with bears in their back yards all the time.”

At the same time, the DNR cautions that bears should always be treated as wild animals capable of inflicting serious harm.

“The best way to resolve human-bear conflicts is to do everything possible to avoid them in the first place,” said Cynthia Osmundson, the DNR’s central region wildlife manager. 952-746-3284 612-673-4482

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