Wandering black bear confirmed in Indiana

ST. JOSEPH COUNTY, Ind. (WANE) The Indiana Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has confirmed a black bear walked into Indiana from Michigan earlier this week.

The DNR received reliable reports of the wandering bear northwest of South Bend in St. Joseph County and made the confirmation after wildlife biologist Budd Veverka examined waste material submitted to the DNR and identified it as bear droppings.

“With black bears in some surrounding states, we were expecting a bear to show up eventually,” said Mitch Marcus, Wildlife Section chief for the DNR Division of Fish & Wildlife. “It’s quite unusual and exciting for a Michigan lakeshore black bear to move this far south. Michigan DNR officials told us this is the southernmost black bear movement in more than a decade.”

Although there have been occasional unconfirmed reports of bears in Indiana, this is the first verified presence of a bear in the state in more than 140 years.

Young black bears are known to move about in the springtime as they seek new territory in which to settle.

“Indiana does not have a breeding population of black bears, and we expect this one to turn back north eventually,” Marcus said.

Indiana DNR encourages citizens to report sightings of the bear to dfwinput@dnr.IN.gov or by calling (812) 334-1137 during regular business hours. Photos or videos can be sent to the same email address. The maximum file size is 15 MB.

Black bears are shy by nature and tend to avoid human contact. Attacks are rare. Black bears are non-aggressive in most instances and prefer fleeing from humans when given the chance. DNR wildlife biologists offer the following bear awareness tips:

  • Don’t intentionally feed bears. If a bear becomes accustomed to finding food near your home, it may become a “problem” bear.
  • Eliminate food attractants by placing garbage cans inside a garage or shed.
  • Clean and store grills away after use.
  • Don’t leave pet food outside overnight
  • Remove bird feeders and bird food from late March through November
  • Don’t add meat or sweets to a compost pile
  • If encountering a bear, don’t run. Shout, wave your arms and back away slowly.

As European settlers began arriving in the 1700s in what is now Indiana, black bears were found throughout the territory. Loss of habitat and demand for furs of all sorts led to the bears’ demise. Shipment records of Vincennes fur trader Francis Vigo from 1777-87 include 2,669 bear hides. The Ewing family, which operated out of Fort Wayne and Logansport in the early 1800s, shipped 2,623 bear hides from 1836-41.

According to the book “Mammals of Indiana” by John O. Whitaker, Jr., and Russell E. Mumford, the last confirmed report of a resident wild black bear in Indiana was in 1850. Whitaker and Mumford report a bear sighting in northwest Indiana in 1871 but note it was forced south from Michigan to escape a series of fires known historically as the Great Michigan Fire.

Black bears are now listed as an exotic mammal and protected under Indiana Administrative Code 312 9-3-18.5 (b-1), which prohibits the killing of a black bear except by a resident landowner or tenant while the animal is “destroying or causing substantial damage to property owned or leased by the landowner or tenant.”

Michigan DNR estimates a population of 15,000 to 19,000 black bears in the state, with 90 percent of them living in the Upper Peninsula. Black bears also have recolonized in the eastern portions of Kentucky and Ohio.

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