Apostle Islands National Lakeshore Not Immune to Bear Problems

Black bears aren't normally a problem on islands in Lake Superior, but one of the bruins has forced closure of Manitou Island in Apostle Islands National Lakeshore. NPS photo.

A cantankerous black bear on an island in Lake Superior is proof that bear problems in the National Park System are not restricted to the West or the Appalachians.

This particular bear, a 200-pounder, has forced Apostle Islands National Lakeshore officials to close public access to Manitou Island.

The bear, thought to be the same one that forced closure of the island earlier this summer, has developed a taste for Spam and already has forced one park employee to seek safety in an outhouse.

Comments

Sounds like you have a people problem, more than a bear problem. Where did he get the Spam?

people or bear problem the damage is already done. They closed the island they say ,so are they patrolling 24 hours to stop boaters from just dropping in? It's unfortunate but if the bear is backing trained wildlife mangers into outhouses what are the chances that some boating day tripper won't trigger an attack? I think that this animals future is in serious jeopardy. They always say don't feed the bears but i wonder do the rangers have the power to fine people that they catch doing it?

Vince,

Rangers do have the authority to issue warnings and citations, but they pretty much have to catch the violations in action. It is unfortunate that this bear managed to find a human-provided buffet, and you'd think rangers would be able to figure out who left the Spam behind.

The obvious question now is what is the lakeshore planning to do with the bear? Destroy it or relocate it? If I can find out, I'll pass it on.

The visitor season is practically over at the Apostle Islands and therefore closing Manitou Island is relatively easy. Even in the middle of the season, however, we've found that most visitors coming by boat respect a closure sign, particularly when it explains that the closure is for their own safety. Virtually everyone who goes to this island (one of 21 in the park) uses the single dock that's there, so they'd likely see our sign. We don't intend to patrol it any more intensively than normal and we don't expect problems with non-compliance (at least by the humans).

Rangers will go out this week and attempt to mark the bear and employ some non-lethal hazing to try to get the message across that getting too close to people is not in his interest. Despite the incidents we've had this summer, however, this bear is elusive so that may or may not be successful.

In the spring, we'll see if we find him again on that island (or another; bears swim from island to island occasionally). Identifying him will be easier if we're able to mark him now.

The incident earlier this summer involved a volunteer, not a trained wildlife manager. The Spam came from park visitors who not only had bad taste but violated good sense as well as park regulations, and were long gone before we could find out who they were. We regularly run into visitors who don't do a good job keeping their food from bears. Usually, the lowest level of law enforcement works, and is appreciated -- i.e. we take advantage of the teachable moment and they thank us for it. Occasionally, they aren't cooperative and we then cite them for a violation of park regulations. But as everyone knows, bears are smart so a single visitor not doing the right thing with food can corrupt a bear for a season.

In the past we've moved bears, a labor intensive and difficult operation (think: bears on boats, Lake Superior in the fall...) only to find that they (amazingly) return (one was nicknamed MacArthur) or cause problems in other areas. When we've moved them to the mainland it's often been a death sentence for them. We've also destroyed bears but we are not doing that any more unless absolutely necessary.

This bear, while it has been overly cantankerous -- good word, Kurt -- has not exhibited threatening or predatory behavior. Even the volunteer backed into the outhouse, while scared, did not feel "attacked." Nor has any visitor. This is a lightly used island (by human visitors) so we will continue to try to change the behavior of the bear if and when we can. But we're the visitors to his home so we will continue to give him the benefit of the doubt unless his behavior changes for the worse. And even then, we'll close the island indefinitely unless he's actually exhibited threatening behavior, in which case we would, reluctantly, destroy him.

But I'd rather take the heat for closing part of the park to people than kill a bear whose "guilt" is the result of the temptation people have created for him.

Bob Krumenaker
Superintendent
Apostle Islands National Lakeshore

Bob -

Thanks for an excellent summary of the situation. Based on my experience with bears at other parks, I'd fully agree that you and your staff have taken a very reasonable approach.

I've only visited the park once, and my experience with the islands is limited to a couple of trips on the concession-operated boat, but from what I saw of the terrain, it would be very difficult for visitors to land a boat on most of these islands except at a few, specified locations. That's a plus, since it does make it a lot easier to inform the public about a closure.

I hope the readers of the Traveler will appreciate Bob's summary of the situation. It is not often that a superintendent uses the Traveler as a way to explain the NPS's side of a potentially controversial issue. Thanks, Bob, for taking the time to do this.

Rick Smith

Thanks, Jim, and thanks, Rick, for the kind words -- I hope to see both of you again soon. I, too, wish a few more of my colleagues would take advantage of the forum that the Traveler offers.

Bob