Minnesota conservation officials are concerned that dry conditions around the state will embolden black bears seeking food from dumpsters, cabins and even homes.

Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) wildlife biologist Andrew Tri, the agency's acting bear project leader, pointed to "our dry conditions this spring and in some places a killing frost right at the peak of blueberry flowering season" for creating the potential for a less than fruitful supply of natural food for bears later this year.

"It's hard to say if it will be a one-two punch," Tri said. "But in general, I don't expect it to be a bumper year for blueberries and raspberries," which are most enticing for black bears, whose population statewide ranges from 12,000 to 15,000.

While nuisance bear reports this year to the DNR are slightly behind last year's pace, "I fully anticipate that to ramp up in midsummer," said Tri, based in Grand Rapids.

In a recent statement, the DNR said, "It is especially important to secure anything that a bear would consider food. Don't condition bears to associate your home or campsite with an easy meal by leaving out unsecured garbage, birdseed or pet food."

The black bear is strongly associated with the North Woods — where dry conditions range from high to extreme — but they are routinely spotted throughout the state, including in Twin Cities suburbs.

Last late June, a black bear wandered into the Union Depot parking ramp in downtown St. Paul and milled around for about an hour.

While black bears are naturally cautious and typically avoid human contact, they can put aside that apprehension when attracted by tasty items around homes and cabins. The DNR estimates there are upward of 15,000 black bears in Minnesota, and adults weigh 150 to 500 pounds.

At least a dozen conservation officers took reports last week about bears becoming a nuisance to residents or cabin owners. Some reports came in from as far south as Onamia near Lake Mille Lacs and in the Pine City area in east-central Minnesota.

Along the North Shore in Hovland, "bears continue to frequent dumpsters, bird feeders and any place they can find a free meal," read one conservation officer's report.

About 110 miles to the west in Ely, DNR officials were baffled by the actions of one potentially smarter-than-the-average bear that clambered into a home last week.

The homeowner told a conservation officer that the bear came in through the kitchen window while residents were home.

The occupants got out, and the bear soon followed but "showed no fear of them," a report from conservation officer Sean Williams read.

"The homeowner was found to have no bear attractants on his property and no explanation for the bear's boldness," the report continued.

Paul Walsh • 612-673-4482