Bear attack reminds individuals that they need to be cautious

Avoiding bears: In general, bears are shy and will avoid humans. The most common reason for bear sightings is when they search for food in our back yards or trash cans. (Courtesy photo)
Avoiding bears: In general, bears are shy and will avoid humans. The most common reason for bear sightings is when they search for food in our back yards or trash cans. (Courtesy photo)

BALDWIN — The recent sightings of bears in the area, plus the attack of a young girl in Wexford County last week, has raised the issue of what to do in such a situation.

The Department of Natural Resources continues to contend that such attacks are extremely rare. But officials do acknowledge that if such a situation occurs, individuals need to do certain things to insure their safety.

Running away from the bear isn’t going to work, the DNR says, and neither is playing dead.

The DNR notes in its website that between 15,000 and 19,000 bears are in Michigan, mainly around the hardwood and conifer forest in northern Michigan. Of that amount, 90 percent are in the Upper Peninsula and 10 percent in the northern Lower Peninsula. But there have been spottings in the south half of the Peninsula.

The DNR notes that bears are by nature shy.

“If you were hiking through the woods, a bear would most likely hear you or pick up your scent and run off before you even knew it was there,” the DNR says in its website. “Bear have a natural fear of humans and it is best if that fear remains intact. If we leave foods accessible to bears, they may overcome their fear of humans in order to take advantage of it.

“Bears that learn to associate food with humans can be dangerous. People must act responsibly when living or vacationing in bear country, and know what activities are likely to attract bears. Prevention is the key to avoiding people-bear conflicts.”

Bob Myers of rural Baldwin has spotted a mother bear and her four cubs in recent months via a trail camera, coming to his backyard to work on the bird feeder.

“I haven’t seen that bear around in three weeks but I hear stories of her,” Myers said. “It’s still making the circuit.”

Myers said the attack in Wexford County shows why he has told others to be aware of any bear sightings.

“They can hurt you. You never know why,” he said. “You never know what they’re thinking. I think the worst thing that gal could do was run.”

A neighbor, hearing the girls’ screams, shouted and was able to get the bear to run off.

Katie Keen, DNR northern Michigan wildlife biologist admits that while individuals are cautioned not to run, it’s extremely human nature to do so. If they’re not to run or play dead, what can they do?

“Don’t run, but try to look big, put your arms up in the air and talk,” Myers said. “That’s about all you can do.”

He said individuals, if they are lying down, should completely protect their neck area.

“There’s always the practical answer and always what someone does in a high stress situation,” said Keen. “The No. 1 thing to think about is you don’t want to surprise a bear. So if you’re out in the woods, we advise folks to make noise, talk... so you don’t walk upon something and startle it. If you encounter a bear, it’s easy to say from my desk here, but stand your ground, slowly (stepping) away. Don’t turn away. Don’t show fear and run. Don’t play dead. Make yourself look big.

“Raise your arms up in the air. Shout at it and talk in a stern voice. If you have a stick, waving in the air, you just want to look big and be loud ... clapping hands is great, if you have an airhorn with you, you can do that. Shout at it and be very stern. Fight back when attacked.”

Keen added that individuals need to make sure food isn’t in a situation where it will attract bears.