Black bears are relatively plentiful in northern Michigan this year in general and at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore specifically. As a result, visitors are being reminded to keep clean campsites and be watchful for the bruins.
Lakeshore officials say bears have been seen relatively frequently near the Platte River Campground, and Michigan wildlife experts say they likely are attracted to the campground by food.
“Michigan’s black bears in the spring have one main thing on their mind — food,” said Russ Mason, chief of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources’ Wildlife Division. “The Sleeping Bear Dunes are a spectacular place to view Michigan wildlife, and campers there should be aware that bears are present and hungry, and should not be fed under any circumstance. Bears that are habituated to humans associate them with food and can get aggressive.”
Sleeping Bear Dunes biologists track bear sightings and include details on the animals' behavior, including whether they were seeking food from facilities within the lakeshore.
“We’ve been very fortunate there have not been any serious incidents,” says Sleeping Bear biologist Sue Jennings, adding that so far campers have been very receptive to warnings about bears and instructions on how to prevent encounters. “We’ve had very good compliance from our campers.”
Whenever bears are reported around camping areas, rangers investigate and, if necessary, might attempt non-lethal hazing techniques, such as firing blank rounds in the air or “bean bag rounds” at the bear’s rump to scare the animal, according to a lakeshore release.
Once bears associate people and food, they become habituated and likely to return to the area in search of an easy meal, the release added.
Campers are being asked to keep their campsites clean by storing all food, containers, and stoves in vehicles or campers anytime campsites are left unattended. All trash should be taken immediately to the campground dumpsters. Pet food should not be left out. Campers who disobey these regulations may be subject to fines.
Park biologist Jennings advises not to panic if you come in contact with a bear. The best thing to do is not to run, but to slowly increase your distance from the bear by watchfully walking away, she says.
If the bear starts to show aggressive behavior, such as smacking its teeth, swiping at the ground, or making loud noises, you are too close, according to park biologists. You can discourage attacks from an aggressive bear by making yourself look as large as possible, shouting, and banging items together. Never approach a bear, especially one with cubs as they can be especially aggressive in protecting their young.
“If you do get to see a bear, feel free to take pictures, and enjoy this beautiful animal at a distance," says Deputy Lakeshore Superintendent Tom Ulrich. "It would be greatly appreciated if, immediately after your sighting, you contact a park employee at a campground office or the Visitor Center to fill out a bear sighting report.”