The spread of black bears to western and southern Minnesota — and even the metro-area suburbs — has prompted the Department of Natural Resources to ask the public's help in tracking their movement.
The DNR wants to know how far bears — in particular females and cubs — have traveled outside their primary range. The agency has set up a system to record sightings on its website, dnr.state.mn.us, in the bear section under the recreation tab.
People are invited to go online to report where they have seen bears and to log information about their activity, including whether they were seen feeding on natural foods, or nonnatural foods such as bird feeders or crops. An interactive map shows where bears have been sighted outside their normal range.
An exact address is not needed. The name and contact information of the person reporting the sighting will not be made public, the agency said.
Black bears are common in the forests of northern and northeastern Minnesota, but more and more they have been spotted foraging on farmland in the western and southern parts of the state, with occasional appearances in suburban backyards.
"Nearly all of these far-roaming bears are presumed to be wandering male bears, but one purpose of gathering sightings on the website is to find out how far from the primary range the females have expanded," said Dave Garshelis, DNR bear project leader.
The primary bear range covers about 40 percent of the state, roughly on a line from far northern Washington County northwest to Mahnomen County and north to the Canadian border.
"Hunters have long contributed information about bears to assist our management program," Garshelis said. "This is the first time we're asking all of the 'citizen scientists' in the public to help."
The tool is not for reporting nuisance bears, Garshelis said. That should be done by contacting a wildlife management office (www.mndnr.gov/contact/locator.html) or by calling the DNR at 1-888-646-6367.