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July 6, 2010

EAU CLAIRE - The young black bear hanging around Eau Claire's southeast side for the past couple weeks has been a bit troublesome, but it has one feature making it especially valuable to wildlife researchers who are asking the public for tolerance and cooperation.

This bear is wearing a sporty black and brown collar worth more than $2,000. But its real value is in the information being stored on a digital memory card inside the collar. Every day, the collar takes a location reading from GPS satellites and records it. At the end of a full year, sometime next March, researchers will recover the collar, if all goes well, and they will be able to precisely chart the young bear's movements through the seasons.

It is part of a years-long study into the dispersal patterns of young black bears. The collared bear in Eau Claire was born in a den near Mead Lake in Clark County, about 50 miles to the east. It is one of 10 yearling bears in central and western Wisconsin that were fitted with collars this past March.

For this reason, researchers are hoping the Eau Claire bear will not need to be trapped and relocated, because if that happens, its value to researchers is lost.

"We are interested in what kinds of habitat they are moving through and what they are not moving through," said Karl Malcolm, a researcher with the University of Wisconsin. "That's why these bears that are showing up in people's back yards are rather interesting."

If wildlife or law enforcement officials determine a bear is a threat to public safety, it will quickly be captured, study or no study. Such situations, fortunately, are rare.

Malcolm, by the way, is willing to come and speak to any group of homeowners, big or small, interested in learning more about the bear study.

Another of these collared bears was hanging around in Chippewa Falls in recent weeks, causing telephones to ring, but that bear has moved on and was last located near Durand. In fact, it has been moving along so quickly that researchers have temporarily lost track of its signal.

"I would appreciate it, if anyone sees a bear wearing a collar, that they call the DNR," said Mike Gappa of Eau Claire, a retired DNR biologist and bear expert who has been assisting Malcolm with the study.

Biologists said conflicts between bears and humans are almost always associated with food or items that smell of food left outdoors. Bears have an extremely powerful sense of smell and they tend to follow their noses. Bowls of pet food, garbage left out overnight and bird feeders are major attractions, so the DNR is asking residents in any area where a bear shows up to remove any food sources. This will make it less likely that the bear will become habituated to humans, and more likely that the bear will move out of the area on its own, allowing the researchers to continue to follow its movements.

Gappa put the collar on the Eau Claire bear this past March when it was denned up with its mother. In addition to the 10 yearling bears with collars, seven sows are wearing less expensive collars that simply emit a radio signal so they can be located late next winter.

A sow bear breeds every two years, generally around June. In the first winter after breeding, the cubs are born in January. They will stay with the mother through the following summer and winter, but when it is time for the sow to breed again the yearling bears are sent off on their own to make a life.

Typically the young females don't wander too far, researchers said, but the young males have been known to travel hundreds of miles in search of territory they can call their own.

The bear in Eau Claire has been troublesome because it seems more habituated to humans than the average bear. It hasn't threatened anyone, nor has it acted aggressively, but it sometimes needs more than the usual encouragement to move along. It can easily shelter in the heavily wooded Otter Creek corridor which runs behind homes, schools and businesses in the area east of U.S. 53 and north of Prill Road (County AA.)

Under a 2007 state law, any homeowner who knows or should know that a bear is coming to an outside feeder is required to remove that food source for a minimum of 30 days. Biologists point out that birds do not benefit from bird feeders once the snow melts in the spring.

For everyone's benefit, researchers and homeowners alike, it would be best if the Eau Claire bear moves along and finds a better place to hang out, preferably not in someone's yard.

"Take down the bird feeders," Gappa pleaded. "Try to get that animal to move on."

FOR MORE INFORMATION CONTACT: Kris Belling, DNR regional wildlife supervisor, (715) 839-3736 or Ed Culhane, DNR communications, (715) 839-3715

Last Revised: Tuesday, July 06, 2010

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