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DNR says Michigan's black bear population is growing

An adult black bear.
Adobe Stock
Michigan Public
An adult black bear. The Michigan Department of Natural Resources estimates that the state is home to over 12,000 black bears, mostly concentrated in the upper peninsula.

Michigan's black bear population is growing, according to new data from the state Department of Natural Resources. The state is now home to over 12,000 bears, most of them — over 10,000 — in the Upper Peninsula.

In 2012 the DNR decided to limit bear hunting licenses with the intention of growing the bear population, said Cody Norton, the DNR's bear, furbearer, and small game specialist. Since that year, the population has grown 21% in the Upper Peninsula and 55% in the northern Lower Peninsula, according to the agency.

Norton said the population growth is positive because bears are vital to their ecosystems.

“They’re a generalist omnivore and they’re a native species here in Michigan. They use a ton of different food sources from soft mass like raspberries, blackberries, and insects to hard mass like acorns; and they prey on fawns and rodents. They’re also an important hunting species in the state, providing meat and fur for hunters. There are a lot of benefits to having them," Norton said.

Officials said that moving forward the DNR's goal is to continue to increase the bear population in the Upper Peninsula but at a slower rate and to slow the population growth in the northern Lower Peninsula until it reaches a stable number.

Norton said that over the years, the DNR has used many methods to count bears, including hunter harvests and "bear hair snare" surveys.

"In the northern Lower Peninsula we use a ‘black bear hair snare’ survey. So we actually bait areas and have essentially barbed wire around those areas. So as the bear comes in or out it just has a little bit of fur that gets stuck in those barbs, and we’re able to collect those hairs and do genetic analysis to figure out how many different individuals visited that site," Norton explained.

He said that the risk of bear attacks on humans is extremely low, but that if property owners are concerned, they can employ preventative measures like removing bird feeders and cleaning out grills to avoid attracting bears.

Beth Weiler is a newsroom intern covering the environment.
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