Bear complaints in Duluth and Two Harbors are on the rise this summer, according to Department of Natural Resources officials.
"West Duluth, around the zoo. That seems to be the hot spot this year," said Martha Minchak, DNR assistant area wildlife manager in Duluth.
Minchak has received 47 calls so far this year, she said.
"The last few years, it's been in the low 40s or the 30s or 20s for the whole year," she said, "so this is a bit of an uptick for us. The Two Harbors (DNR) office is saying the same thing."
DNR conservation officer Kipp Duncan, who covers the eastern half of Duluth, also said he's been getting a lot of "nuisance bear" calls.
"I've had many bear calls," he said. "I've been telling people, we have the bears because of what we do here. Put your garbage away. You and your neighbors have to band together. If your neighbor has five bird feeders out there, you're going to have bears."
Although blueberries and raspberries were plentiful this year, they came on early and now have dried up. Bear hunters, who put out baits to attract bears, say bears are hitting those baits regularly, a sign that not much natural food is available.
Minchak said some natural foods seem plentiful now, including apples, acorns, chokecherries and pincherries. But some bears, especially those in town, return to places they know they can find garbage or bird feed, Minchak said.
"It's almost always bird feeders or garbage," Minchak said.
The DNR does not trap and remove nuisance bears that are finding garbage and bird feeders. That has proven ineffective in the past because bears simply return to those sources of food.
The DNR offers this advice for eliminating nuisance bear problems, Minchak said:
# Keep your garbage in your garage with the door closed. If you don't have a garage, cover your trash can with a sturdy lid and use a rubber-style (not fabric-style) bungee cord to secure it.
# If covering your garbage doesn't work, you'll have to build some kind of structure to hold the garbage containers.
# At apartments and condominium complexes, consider getting metal trash bins with metal lids that secure tightly.
# Every time you see bears, let them know they're not welcome; yell at them, or bang pots or other loud objects. "What I recommend is that people throw things at them like tennis balls or small rocks just a little bigger than gravel," Minchak said. "Something that won't hurt them but lets them know you mean business."
If one neighbor is feeding deer (which is illegal within city limits) or birds or bears, other neighbors will have to persuade the person to quit feeding, Minchak said.
"It's all preventable stuff," she said.
Minnesota's bear season opens today, but bears may not be hunted within city limits.