TRAVERSE CITY — Officials said an uptick in black bear sightings across the region and accompanying social media posts are indicative of a climbing population.
David Rose, of Grawn, an outdoor writer and former Record-Eagle columnist, said he recently snapped a couple of photos of two bears with his smart phone along County Road 633 about two miles south of the stoplight in Grawn. He saw a sow that weighed about 400 pounds, he said, with her yearling that looked about 200 pounds.
He was driving home from an outdoor writers' conference at Crystal Mountain Resort in Thompsonville when he first spotted the big, mama bruin.
"I knew right away it was a black bear," Rose said.
She ran into the swamp to the east and the yearling scuttled into the swamp to the west, he said.
"We have been seeing more and more bear as of late," Rose said. "I'm not sure if we are just seeing them more because of social media, or if there are population increases."
Scott Noordhof, of Interlochen, said a big bear has been raiding his bird feeders, a risk he said he knew he was taking by leaving them out this time of year. He's even captured the big bruin on a trail camera, he said.
"He's a big guy," Noordhof said. "He showed back up last night and tore down my bird feeder and wrestled around my garbage can that had birdseed in it.
"I know I take the risk every year, but I like to feed the birds," he said.
But alas, Noordhof said the latest bout of destruction convinced him to bring his bird feeders in for the season, or at least until later in the summer. "Then I just have to fight with the raccoons," he said, laughing.
Brian Roell, wildlife biologist with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, said there are about 14,000 bear in the woods across the state, the majority in the Upper Peninsula and about 3,000 in the northern Lower Peninsula. Population surveys for the species indicate a growing population, he said.
Roell said bear complaints across northwestern Lower Michigan are "through the roof," anecdotally speaking. Some consider encounters with bears to be sightings, he said, while others view them as nuisances.
Michigan wildlife officials try to manage the state's bear population considering available habitat, population trends, hunting outcomes and social carrying capacity, Roell said.
Social carrying capacity is the density of a species for any given area that is considered acceptable for a human community — largely influenced by perceptions.
"Bears are visible this time of year because they are driving by food," Roell said, explaining there aren't any berries in the woods yet so residential trash and birdseed can become dietary staples when available.
The wildlife biologist said the region's social carrying capacity is always changing for bears.
"With any large predator, it's a moving target and often is in the eye of the beholder," Roell said.
Results of this year's DNR lottery for bear hunting licenses will be announced June 25. All of Benzie, Grand Traverse, Leelanau and portions of Kalkaska counties are defined as the northern Baldwin bear management unit, where state officials allow firearms hunters to have more days to fill their tags than anywhere else in the Lower Peninsula, from Sept. 14 to 29.
More information about the species is available at www.michigan.gov/bear online.