DNR reminds Wisconsinites to ‘Be Bear Aware’ this summer

MADISON, Wis. — When you head outside to enjoy Wisconsin’s summer weather, being “bear aware” might not be top of mind. But with a threefold increase in the state’s black bear population over the last few decades, maybe it should be.

A recent report from Wisconsin’s Department of Natural Resources categorizes counties by their black bear densities: abundant, common, rare, transient, and not present. In Dane County, black bear sightings as rare, but with so much summer travel, it’s good to know where black bears are spending the most time.

The entire northern part of the state’s black bear density is listed as abundant while Central Wisconsin bear sightings are reported as common. Southern Wisconsin’s density is mostly rare, with the southeastern portion categorized as transient. The only region that lists black bears as not present is near the Milwaukee area. Regardless of where Wisconsinites are, it’s good to be prepared in case you encounter a bear.

“If you’re on a trail in the woods and you come across a bear, make sure it has an exit and has a way to get around you without having to directly come at you,” said Sara Fischer, who works with the Wisconsin DNR. “You want to make sure they aren’t cornered or have their exit come past you.”

Black bears are usually seen in wooded areas but occasionally venture into residential areas if food is left out. Fischer suggested only keeping bird feeders out during the day, bringing in cat or dog food at night if you have an outdoor pet, and making sure trash is secure. Because bears have a strong sense of smell, if they catch a whiff of last night’s dinner, chances are, they’ll come back for seconds.

“That’s why we’re seeing a lot of activity right now, with bears moving into more residential areas,” Fischer said. “They’re looking for really easy meals and they can smell from a very long way away, so limiting those residential area attractants is huge to keep bears out entirely.”

Fisher explained because black bears in the northern part of the state are common, non-violent sightings in that region don’t necessarily need to be reported. However, she said any bears seen in the southern regions should be reported so researchers can continue studying bear traveling patterns. To fill out a sighting report form, click or tap here.