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31 sightings of black bears in southern Wisconsin since March

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ANN MARIE AMES
June 17, 2010
— He weighs 200 pounds and enjoys fishing, small-game hunting and wild Wisconsin honey.

He’s shy, despite his strong shoulders and broad torso.


He enjoys summer evening walks and is considering moving to southern Wisconsin.


Sound like the perfect neighbor?


Well, don’t get too excited. He’s a bear.


No, really, he’s a BLACK BEAR. And you can expect to see him and his pals more often in southern Wisconsin.


A Walworth County property owner on Monday night reported seeing a black bear north of Delavan on Hazel Ridge Road in Sugar Creek Township.


Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources warden Jason Roberts confirmed that the animal was a black bear through pictures taken by the property owner, Delavan Police Chief Tim O’Neill said.


The bear was reported about 8:30 p.m. Monday, said Capt. Dana Nigbor with the Walworth County Sheriff’s Office. A deputy responded but did not see the bear, she said.


The property owner declined to talk to the Gazette or share the pictures.


DNR Spokesman Greg Matthews has been keeping a tally of confirmed black bear reports in southern Wisconsin since March 29.


The Sugar Creek bear brings Matthews’ list to 31.


Most of the sightings have been in Dane, Sauk, Iowa and Grant counties, he said.


The DNR estimates 31,000 black bears live in Wisconsin, Matthews said. Most of them live in the northern one-third of the state.


But as the bear population grows and habitat declines, bears are finding their ways back south, Matthews said. After all, southern Wisconsin was home to the black bear until humans exterminated the bears in the 1860s, according to DNR data.


Black bears are native to the upper Midwest, Matthews said.


An adult male bear needs about 27 square miles of his own territory for mating. Female bears tend to stick within eight square miles of their dens, according to DNR reports.


So the lone bears people see this time of year are most often young males that have been kicked out of the breeding territory of an older, stronger male, Matthews said.


Not only are the young males escaping harassment from a bigger bear, they’re looking for their own mates, Matthews said.


The Gazette was unable to reach DNR warden Jason Roberts to confirm that the Walworth County bear was a male. Roberts was the warden who confirmed that the pictures taken Monday night were of a black bear.


Sightings of female bears are even less common in southern Wisconsin. But a female black bear and her cubs have been reported near Leland, Matthews said. That’s 10 miles north of Mazomanie in Sauk County.


“That tells us she was bred down here,” Matthews said. “So we have at least one confirmed permanent residence.”


Although black bear sightings in southern Wisconsin still are uncommon enough to be newsworthy, people and bears have lived together for “countless centuries,” Mathews said.


He sees no reason why they can’t keep doing so peacefully.


“Enjoy them while they’re here,” Matthews said. “Hey, it’s been quite a while since bears have had such presences as we’re learning they’re having. For many people, this is a first opportunity to observe the bears in the wild. There’s nothing wrong with doing that.


“Just give them space.”


IF YOU SEE A BEAR

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources has confirmed that the animal sighted north of Delavan on Monday night was a black bear.


If you see the bear, call the City of Delavan Police Department at (262) 728-6311.


“I don't want to make this into a large public safety issue,” Chief Tim O’Neill said. “I don't believe that it is. I just want people to feel safe.”


If a bear is in your backyard, it’s most likely looking for the cat food or birdseed you left out. Bears are attracted to bird feeders, garbage cans and pet food, DNR spokesman Greg Matthews said.


“Bears are naturally timid by nature and avoid contact with people,” Matthews said.


Do not feed a wild bear. That reduces its natural fear of people and can create problems.


If you see a bear in the wild, make a lot of noise and wave your arms. That gives the bear some warning so you don’t startle it. Bears have poor vision.


If you startle a bear up close, back away slowly.


ABOUT THE BLACK BEAR

-- Adult male bears are called boars. They weigh from 250 to 500 pounds. Female bears are called sows. They weigh from 225 to 450 pounds. Infant bears are called cubs and weigh only a few ounces at birth.


-- Black bears have short, sturdy legs and a roly-poly appearance. But they are strong and can gallop faster than 30 miles per hour. They are good swimmers and tree climbers.


-- Black bears are most active from April to November. They sleep deeply in the winter, but they do not hibernate. They can be easily woken up.


-- Black bears mate in June and early July. Female bears are ready to mate every other year. Mates only stay together for a few days, and male and female black bears mate with multiple partners.


-- The female bear delivers her cubs while she is in her winter sleep. Normally, black bears have two cubs at a time. Mother black bears are very protective of her cubs. If people disturb the sow and her cubs, she will move them to a new den.


-- Like humans, black bears are omnivores. They eat everything—fruit, berries, nuts, grass, leaves, insects and insect larvae, fish, honey, trash, the grease from grills, small mammals and carrion.


Bears have been known to raid beehives and orchards and could kill small livestock.


Source: Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources

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