Trekking 100 miles, “Meijer Bear,” Other Wildlife Becoming Common Urban Visitors
By Craig Manning | July 25, 2021
Coyotes and deer and bears, oh my! If you feel like you’ve been spotting more wildlife around local neighborhoods, in parking lots, and near public roads lately, it’s not your imagination. According to Tim Lyon, a wildlife technician at Traverse City’s Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) customer service center, there has been a definite upward trend of wildlife wandering into northern Michigan urban areas. It’s an outcome caused by a variety of factors, from habitat disruption to a decline in hunting interest throughout the state.
One of Traverse City’s splashiest wildlife stories in recent memory began last fall, when customers and employees at the Meijer on the west side of Traverse City reported sightings of an adult male black bear roaming around the parking lot. That same bear was spotted at the Grand Traverse Commons, near Great Wolf Lodge, at the Grand Traverse Memorial Gardens Cemetery off Veterans Drive, and in various other spots throughout the west side of town. The bear made a name for itself by knocking over dumpsters and trash bins, stealing bird feeders from residential yards, and more.
DNR officials ultimately managed to trap “the Meijer bear” (as Lyon calls him) this past spring, relocating the animal to another part of the state. Undeterred, the bear found his way back to Traverse City.
“The Meijer bear, we did trap it this spring, and we moved it,” Lyon says. “Our protocol says we have to move it at least 60 miles away, so we did. We took it to the east side of the state. But within a couple of weeks, it came back to Traverse City. Now it's over on the west side of Benzie County and it's headed south. So that's a long range. That’s 90-100 miles that he’s trekked in 3-4 weeks.”
Beyond the bear’s clear fondness for his home in northern Michigan, Lyon says there’s another concern: reproduction. The Meijer bear, Lyon explains, is a “big boar” and is “probably king of the woods when it comes to bears in our region.” If that’s the case, then the Meijer bear is likely leaving a lot of offspring in his (wide-ranging) path. That means more bears in northern Michigan – and more work for the local DNR office.
“I think a lot of his territory that he has covered has produced more bears on the landscape,” Lyon says. “Because we have had a lot of phone calls lately. I probably field anywhere between 3-10 phone calls a day on bears. There are a lot of sows that are running around with cubs, and I would assume that he is the father of a lot of those cubs.”
Those smaller bears have been spotted repeatedly in different parts of Traverse City, including numerous sightings on the east side, up near the Holiday Hills neighborhoods and the VASA Trail.
The good news, Lyon says, is that these bears – even the “king of the woods” that is the Meijer bear – aren’t the extremely dangerous predators that species like Kodiaks, grizzlies, or even brown bears are known to be.
“Black bears are not an aggressive species,” Lyon explains. “You'd have to go back centuries to find a time where a black bear in Michigan killed somebody. We are not the top on their food chain. When it really boils down to it, they're vegetarians. They're ‘opportunistic carnivores,’ is the way I like to put it. If they stumble across a carcass, will they consume some of it? Yes, they will. But they're not actively preying on deer, fawns, people's livestock, or their children. The majority of their diet, I would say 80 percent, is a vegetarian diet.”
Still, there are risks. One fear is that more bears will do as the Meijer bear did, increasingly wandering into urban or residential areas to take advantage of food sources like bird feeders and dumpsters – and potentially causing property damage in the process. Another is that bears will bring an uptick in car-versus-animal accidents in the region – though Lyon notes that the Meijer bear, at least, has learned to let traffic pass before crossing roads.
Ultimately, though, Lyon says people will mostly have to get used to a little more wildlife activity around them, especially given that Traverse City is continuing to grow and more areas that used to be animal habitat are getting developed. In fact, those habitat encroachments have led to an increase in calls across the board for the Traverse City DNR service center, with callers reporting issues with everything from deer to racoons to foxes to coyotes.
Lyon’s advice? Get more cognizant of smart wildlife etiquette. Drive with extra caution and always keep an eye out for deer. Don’t leave bird feeders out during the late spring, summer, and early fall months, when food for birds is plentiful in nature and those feeders are more likely to act as attractants for bears or other animals. Similarly, wait until morning on trash day to roll your trash receptacles outside, lest their scents draw in bears, raccoons, or other hungry animals. Be careful with letting your dogs and cats out to roam off leash, especially in the evening hours when coyotes like to lure in their prey. Finally, if/when you come face-to-face with a bear, know what to do.
“If you if you come across a bear [in the woods] do not run away from it,” Lyon says. “If you run away from it, especially in dark conditions, it will assume that it doesn't know exactly what you are. And then there's the possibility for it to come and jump on you, or go after you. What you're supposed to do is actually face it straight up and walk towards it, raise your hands, and scream and yell as loud as possible. It will realize that you're a human, and that it should flee.”
Lyon also points to hunting and trapping as possible strategies for rectifying spiking wildlife populations in Michigan – particularly deer and furbearers like coyotes, foxes, raccoons, beavers, and bobcats. Hunting has declined in the state in recent years, to the point where the DNR has even changed its deer hunting regulations for 2021 to remove barriers to hunting participation.
“Those populations are growing because we have fewer hunters and trappers on the landscape,” Lyon says. “We are having a difficult problem recruiting and retaining younger individuals [to hunt]. Hunting isn’t getting passed on to the next generation. So we need teachers and mentors to show the next generation that hunting is important for Michigan’s future.”Comment