By David Fleet
When Brandon Township resident Billy Starr harvested a black bear on Sept. 15— it was not only his first it was also shot in the Lower Peninsula, just about 2 hours north of Oakland County.
While many hunters opt for an Upper Peninsula bear due to the higher population—staying south is a popular viable option, said Cody Norton large carnivore specialist for the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, Marquette.
“Since 2012 the number of bear have been increasing,” said Norton. “The DNR reduced the number of kill tags (in 2012) and since then we’ve had a steady increase.”
According to a 2019 DNR population count there are about 2,400 bear in the lower peninsula with more than 10,000 in the upper peninsula. Per land area it’s one bear for every eight miles of land in the lower and one bear every two square miles in the upper. The number of kill tags is based on several factors including sustainable food to support the population and indications of disease.
“The northern section of the lower peninsula, where most of the bear population reside has far less hunting pressure,” he said. “The success rate is much higher too.”
Since the decline in hunting tags eight years ago, the number of bear complaints has quadrupled, said Norton.
“The complaints range from, just seeing a bear, to the bear is eating my bird seed, to the bear is into my grill,” he said. “Bee keepers are also seeing more bears than ever, they can be very damaging to hives. Also, chicken farmers are getting bear in their coops, not to eat the chickens so much but the feed is more of an attraction.”
Bear are very intelligent and have an incredible sense of smell, he added.
“There eyesight is rather poor,” he said. “But that nose makes up for it.”
Norton was unsure just how far south bear will travel.
“We’ve had bear in the Grand Rapids area and near Owosso,” he said. “Most of the time it’s the young boars (male) bears that get run off by bigger bears. They head out looking for new areas.”
By David Fleet