IRON RIVER—If you grumble about unwanted visitors who pop in unexpectedly during summer, think of what Larry Melstrom had to deal with one night last week.
Melstrom, a retired Forest Service worker, lives on the corner of First Avenue and Monroe Street, just north of the Iron County Armory. He was asleep early Tuesday morning, June 3, when his dog woke him up at about 2:30 a.m.
Then he heard a loud noise outside. “We have this small garbage can that we keep the bird feed in,” he explained. Something had knocked it over. Melstrom got up to investigate.
“I looked out the front window,” he continued, “and here’s a good-sized bear within 10 feet of the window.” One look was enough—Melstrom went back to get two revolvers. “I didn’t know if the thing was going to come in or not.
It was a big bear. “Somewhere between 300 and 350 pounds,” he said.
Melstrom’s dog, Patches, a pit bull-pointer mix, was ready to defend the homestead. “The dog started barking like the devil inside the house,” he remembered, “and the goldarn bear was out there by the tree in front of the house.
“Instead of running away, it charged the window where the dog was at. The nose of the bear actually went through the screen window.”
Time to call in some back-up, so Melstrom called 911. A little later, an Iron River police officer showed up. Melstrom said the officer didn’t leave his car but shined his spotlight up into the tree, where he saw the bear.” The officer stayed for about 15 minutes—nothing happened, the bear didn’t leave the tree—and then left.
Melstrom left his porch lights on for another 15 minutes. Nothing happened, and he turned the lights off. But he stayed in the living room, just in case.
Sure enough--before long, the bear was back on the ground, scrounging around in the spilled sunflower seeds and corn. “A little while later, here comes a cub down the tree. I hadn’t even seen them before.” He called 911 again. Then two more cubs came down. We’re up to four bears in Melstrom’s yard.
These “cubs,” by the way, are not tiny baby bears. Melstrom said they seemed to be about the same size as his dog, who weighs about 90 pounds.
Meanwhile, the female bear went around to the north side of the house. “I lost track of her, with the three cubs all out in front. I looked out the north window of the living room to see where it was at.
“The goldamn thing was right on the opposite side of the window. It came back on me again—it took out another screen.” In all, three screens wound up with circular holes from the bear’s snout and have to be replaced. Two of them have bent frames.
But when Melstrom called 911 again, he was told nobody was going to show up. “I said, ‘Well, if the damn bear tries to come into the house, you’re going to have a dead bear on your hands.’”
It didn’t come to that. At about 4:45 a.m., with skies starting to lighten in the east, the bears moved off. “They went east, towards River Avenue, and crossed into the woods.”
Melstrom thinks the bears are the same ones that were sedated north of Franklin Street last fall. Those bears were caught in October 2013 north of Franklin Street, between Ninth Avenue and 16th Avenue (Homer Road).
“It’s unusual for a sow [female bear] to have three cubs, to start with,” Melstrom said. That bear had three cubs, and so did the one that visited his yard last week.
The same bears? “I’d be willing to bet on that. A dollar to a doughnut.”
The rest of the week wasn’t quite as nerve-wracking.
“On Tuesday night, about 10:30, they came back in again,” he said. “All my stuff was in, out of the yard, so they didn’t stay very long. All four of them were out there, in the yard, for maybe five minutes.”
Then they went south, towards the armory. The next day, he found out about a neighbor who lives on the other side of the alley. “He went out on the porch, and the damn bear chased him back in the house.”
By then, Melstrom had called 911. An Iron River police officer soon arrived, but the bears were gone.
Early Thursday morning, Melstrom’s dog had to go outside at about 2 a.m. “She was just out a little while, and then she went pretty much nuts again, when she was tied up.” Nothing else happened. Several gardens in the neighborhood that had been freshly tilled did not have bear tracks the next morning.
That day, a wildlife technician from the DNR visited Melstrom. “He said he’s only got two traps available right now.” The DNR officer also told him there have been new complaints from Hilltop Location, where the bears were caught last year.
It’s common knowledge that wildlife wanders around many city neighborhoods at night, visiting back yards and gardens, looking for a quick, easy snack along the way. Many residents have seen rabbits, skunks, raccoons, squirrels and deer, to say nothing of crows, grackles and other birds.
It’s also well known that many area residents leave food scraps in their yards for the wild critters to eat. The city of Iron River recently passed an ordinance that tries to halt the practice, in hopes of keeping the wildlife out of the city.
Melstrom thinks it’s just common sense.
“I got on Telephone Time that morning,” he said, “and told people, ‘Take down your bird feeders, and don’t leave any edible garbage outside overnight: We do have a bear problem down here.’”
Especially this one. “This sow is nasty. If you holler at her, she’s not going to run.”