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Black Bears in the Republic

Many people choose to live in and visit northern Michigan because of its striking natural beauty.  Natural beauty can take many forms, from never-ending sand dunes, to crystal clear lakes, and even wildlife.

It's important to note that northern Michigan is still very much a wilderness area, with various species of wildlife roaming around, including black bears. It's critical to be aware of the potential danger associated with being in the northern Michigan wilderness and being prepared in case of a chance encounter.

Recently, there have been multiple reports of black bear sightings in northern Michigan. Most notably, Michael Collier, a local Miller Hill resident, spotted this black bear feeding on one of his bird feeders in his backyard. You can read about his encounter in this Glen Arbor Sun article.

A Black Bear raiding a bird-feeder A Black Bear raiding a bird-feeder. Photo: Michael Collier

With sumer arriving and more people enjoying the great northern outdoors, there's a greater chance of a bear encounter. If you happen to stumble upon a black bear (or visa versa!), here are some tips and guidelines provided by the National Park Service to help keep you and your company safe.

As a precaution when outdoors, it helps to talk loudly, clap your hands, or sing, to alert a potential bear that you are near. Sneaking up on a bear is never a good thing.

Be aware of bear behavior. If you are able to observe the bear and are in no immediate danger, keep a watchful eye on the bear's behavior. The bear will give clues to its feelings and intent. If the bear swats at the ground, grunts, snaps its jaws, or lunges at you, then it is feeling defensive. It can quickly turn offensive if the vocalizations stop and it begins walking fast towards you with ears pinned back.

Don't Approach the Bear: This may seem a little obvious, but black bears only grow to be three feet in height when standing on all fours and can weigh as little as 100 pounds so some people mistake them for cubs. It is recommended that you keep a minimum of 150 feet between you and the bear. While some black bears are not aggressive, some habituated bears that are familiar with humans may be.

Back away slowly. The old addage is true, never look a bear in the eye. This can be perceived as a direct challenge or a signal that are you trying to assert your dominance. If the bear sees you, let it know you are a human by backing away slowly and talking to it sternly. 

Never feed the bear. Bears have a tremendous sense of smell and can locate food from up to 3 miles away. Food is defined as anything that has a scent, like soaps, so if you have it on you and the bear isn't backing down, it has likely picked up your scent. In that case, take off your bag/food, leave it, and back away slowly.

If the bear follows you, stand your ground.  Creating noise/yelling, making yourself as big as possible, heading to higher ground and trying to intimidate the bear are your best options. Throwing nonfood items, like rocks, is encouraged. Do not turn around or run.

If the bear charges you, never run or try to climb a tree. Bears can run up to 30 miles per hour and are expert tree climbers. If you are attacked, do not play dead, fight back aggressively with anything at your disposal (backpack, rock, stick, etc.)

For more information on black bears around the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore and northern Michigan, visit the National Park Service black bear info page.