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Bears in Hancock: Residents warned to remove attractions, keep distance

Residents warned to remove attractions, keep distance

Courtesy of Hancock Police Department The bear on the ground is a 200-pound female in a Hancock backyard.

HANCOCK — Multiple sightings of black bears roaming the backyards of Hancock have been reported over the past three weeks. Over a dozen incidents on Prospect, Ingot, Cedar and North streets have been reported with one of the most recent resulting in six calls in one day to the Hancock Police Department.

Police are aware of four bears lumbering around the area. There is an estimated 100-pound male who is seemingly solitary and an estimated 200-pound female with two cubs about the size of small dogs.

The bears have not attacked any residents nor their pets but have torn down bird feeders, tipped over garbage bins and ripped open garbage bags. The bears have left trails of trash leading back to the nearby wood line and littered it throughout the woods. Officers have responded to the calls by using sirens, airhorns and yelling at the bears to scare them away. The bears are believed to have been attracted by bird feeders and garbage left out in the open in Hancock.

Officer Nanue Houle however said that he noticed something in common with all the locations of bear sightings: a barbecue grill. Every location had a grill outside, which could have leftover food stuck to its grates or grease traps releasing appetizing odors into the air. The locations are not far from the woods and the smell of food from the grills can be enticing to the bears.

A major concern the police have regarding the bears’ presence is the amount of people that are getting too close to the bears for observation or to take photographs. There was an incident on Ingot Street where many people gathered and were trying to spot and take pictures of the female bear and her cubs.

Houle said that this was dangerous.

“These bears do not care. They are not afraid of us,” Houle warned. “When everyone gathers around, it’s just going to be easy pickings if that bear decides to go rogue and attack someone.”

If residents and tourists want to look at the bears, the police have suggested to keep a safe distance from them and to not exit their vehicles to do so.

Houle has responded to several of the calls involving the bears and has approached them to try and scare them away from residents’ backyards. He had approached the male bear from the back door of a house and was within five feet of the bear eating from a bird feeder. Houle said the bear did not react to his presence and continued to feed.

Houle has also come close to the female at a distance of 10 feet and she did not react. One of the interactions he had with the female bear, however did result in a discovery. As Houle chased the bear, she planted herself at the base of a tree. When Houle looked up, he saw two cubs hugging the tree’s branches.

The female bear is the most dangerous since she will instinctively attack anything or anyone that she believes to be a threat to her cubs. Houle emphasized that it is vital for residents to stay clear of the bear cubs.

“Don’t think they’re all cute and cuddly,” Houle said. “Don’t try to pick up the cubs if you do come across a cub. Don’t try to touch a cub.”

Black bear attacks are not common in Michigan, but bears are capable of inflicting lifelong injuries or death. Black bears are formidable predators that have a bite force of 800 pounds per square inch and the ability to run up to 35 mph. A human that is attacked by one of these bears will have little chance of walking away unharmed.

The best action an individual can take to avoid a confrontation with a black bear is to keep their distance. If an encounter with a black bear which will not leave is inevitable, according to the Michigan Department of Natural Resources’ Living With Black Bears brochure, an individual should yell at the bear and leave an unobstructed escape route for it to leave. If the bear has not yet left, the individual should take slow steps back away from the bear while continuing to talk to the bear in a stern tone. If the bear attacks, the brochure instructs to not run away nor play dead. The best method of defense is to fight back with a backpack, stick or if no object is available, one’s bare hands. The brochure is available to read on the DNR website.

The Hancock Police Department has been in contact with the DNR to come up with plans on dealing with the bears.

The DNR has traps available, but they prefer the public focus on removing their garbage, food and bird feeders out of the bears’ reach.

The City of Hancock has a temporary ban on bird feeders in hopes of taking away an easy food source for the bears. If food is not in reach for the bears, it is believed that within a week or two they will move on. Loud noises can frighten bears, and Houle suggests residents can create noises from a safe distance or within shelter with their pots and pans to scare the bears away.

He does not believe trapping to be a preferable action in these circumstances.

“The last thing you want to do is catch the mother bear and not the cubs. Because now we’re left with another issue,” Houle said.

Removing the bears by lethal means will not be considered unless there is an immediate danger to humans or their pets.

“I know myself along with the other officers don’t want to have to shoot the mother bear because she attacked,” Houle said. “And we don’t want to shoot the male bear. They’re just trying to live their lives, too.”

Houle said that residents should be keeping a closer eye on their pets when walking them as some residents can become oblivious to the local wildlife. Other predators such as coyotes and foxes can be dangerous to cats and dogs.

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