Caught during their morning rounds, a quartet of bears start crossing River Avenue into the old Iron River City Cemetery during the morning of June 12, one of many bear sightings reported in Iron River lately. (Lloyd Jacobson photo)
IRON RIVER—If Iron River residents want their town to stop being Bear City, there is something they can do about it:
Stop feeding them.
Reports of bears roaming around town continued last week. Most involve a female bear and three year-old cubs that are now fairly large, tagging along behind.
The four wandering bears have been making their rounds and drawing a lot of interest. One report—backed up by photographic evidence—had them crossing River Avenue into the old City Cemetery, on the north side of town. That was in the late morning of June 12.
A day earlier, Judy Mariani called to tell of her bear adventure. She lives on the south end of town—on 10th Avenue in the Strawberry Hill area.
This happened just after sunset on June 10, as she and a friend were focused on their regular Tuesday night card game. Then the phone rang.
“My neighbor called me and said, ‘Judy, look out of your kitchen window!’ I looked out my kitchen window, and there was the mama bear and three cubs.” The cubs, she added, were “bigger than a large dog.”
“I’ve been living here for 19 years and never, ever saw anything like that before.”
The friend also saw, “She started to scream and holler, so of course they got frightened.” The mama bear climbed up the maple tree in her yard, then came back down, “and they just trotted across the road, and away they went,” into the woods nearby. The bears were only around about five minutes.
“It’s kind of scary when you live right in town,” Mariani said the next day. “I like to walk, but I’m kind of leery right now.”
The Iron River bears, said Monica Joseph, wildlife biologist at the DNR’s Crystal Falls office, became a problem in 2013 when reports of a sow (female bear) and three cubs started coming in. “She really localized with three small cubs,” Joseph said.
Residents were asked to help. “The majority of all our bear complaints can easily be handled by removal of the food source,” Joseph said. “Once the food source is gone, the bear will move out.”
Some residents cooperated with the DNR, but others didn’t. The DNR doesn’t like to move bears when cubs are small, Joseph noted. “So many things can go wrong.” But in the end, that’s what the DNR did.
Fast forward to 2014. Guess who’s back? “They have a terrific homing instinct,” said the wildlife biologist. “So if the food source remains, the bear will come back.
“That’s what happened—she has returned with the same three cubs and is doing her normal routine. They have a great memory for where they got a free meal. She’s on all the same blocks that she was on last year.”
The DNR removed several single bears last year and took a 250-pound male bear from the Hilltop area just last week. “You know you have a real problem when you have that many large bears in town. There’s just a lot of food out there.”
Some residents, in fact, seem intent on providing the bears a buffet of all their favorite treats. Joseph listed several items that will draw bears to your yard:
--Hummingbird feeders. Many of them are on decks or near windows or sliding doors. That means hungry bears will be lured close to the house, maybe into a fenced-in area. “There is nothing a bear likes better than sugar water.” It’s summer. Plenty of flowering plants are producing nectar for hummingbirds.
--Bird feeders. “Certainly, birds don’t need bird seed in the summer,” Joseph said. “We encourage people to leave them down until the bears go into hibernation and the birds are here for winter.”
--Barbecue grills that aren’t cleaned and taken inside after use.
--Pet food. “They love pet food.”
--Garbage. “Garbage day seems to be one of her favorite things—she’s got the schedule down. If garbage goes out the night before, they take pretty good advantage of that.”
Joseph said Iron River residents have been much better this year about not putting their garbage out until morning—not so many calls about bears getting into garbage.
The DNR is working hard on trapping the wandering bears. A wildlife assistant working out of the Crystal Falls office has been working with the public and police (who often get late-night calls), learning when and where the bears have been seen so he can figure out their route and decide where traps should be placed.
It’s not easy as you may think, because there’s a human factor involved. Simply put, some people like to mess with animal traps. There is also a danger that pets or kids will get too close.
Traps are placed in out-of-the-way places near routes where the bears have been active. “That’s why the reports are very helpful.” Even at a distance, the bears’ sensitive noses can pick up the smell of bait set out in traps.
Normally, Joseph said, bears will favor natural foods like berries. Once berries are ripe, they will stop raiding homes and yards. “But because she [the mother bear] has such a habit built in town, I don’t really look for that to change.”
There is some urgency in the search, too. The DNR wants to find the bears when they are still together.
Remember, the cubs are over a year old. Mom won’t want them around much longer. “It’s going to be breeding season here shortly,” Joseph noted, “and she [the mother bear] will likely kick those cubs away.
“Then what you’ll have is four separate bears marauding around town instead of one clump of bears.”
Judy Mariani seems to have learned a lot since the bears visited her place. The hummingbird feeder in her yard has been put away, and the bird feeder is gone, too.
That’s because the bears destroyed it. Even though the feeder was empty, “They took that thing, and they scrunched it like it was a tin can.”