Wildlife populations on the rise in Mecosta County

BEAR CUBS IN MECOSTA: Dan Moran, a wildlife division technician with the Department of Natural Resources, holds bear cubs in his jacket to keep them warm during a bear den check in March 2014. The mother bear being studied was part of a research project analyzing the movements of black bears heading to southern Michigan. (Pioneer file photo)

BEAR CUBS IN MECOSTA: Dan Moran, a wildlife division technician with the Department of Natural Resources, holds bear cubs in his jacket to keep them warm during a bear den check in March 2014. The mother bear being studied was part of a research project analyzing the movements of black bears heading to southern Michigan. (Pioneer file photo)

BIG RAPIDS — Michiganders know to keep watch along the sides of the roads for the reflective glare off the eyes of deer, but there are a couple other animals drivers may need to watch for in the dark.

Since the 1970s, when spotting a bear or a bobcat in the area was uncommon, populations of both species have steadily increased, according to area Michigan Department of Natural Resources wildlife biologist Pete Kailing.

“We have an increasing bear population,” Kailing said. “Mecosta County doesn’t have as many bears as Newaygo County, but we do live in bear country. In the northwest corner of the the Lower Peninsula the population is growing faster than the state average.”

Though there may be fewer bears in Mecosta than surrounding counties, Kailing said four were killed on the highway between the spring and fall last year.

According to Vern Richardson, acting wildlife biologist of Cadillac’s DNR office, an increase in the populations of bears and bobcats in the area means more of chance to catch a glimpse by sheer chance.

“But bobcats are hard to see; they are shy,” he said. “Bears are shy when they want to be, but they can be bold.”

Richardson said more local bears means more of a chance of them being bold, especially when it comes to bird seed.

Because bears are opportunistic eaters, homeowners should avoid leaving bird feed or pet foods outside. Homeowners also should limit taking trash out to pick-up days to keep bears away, Kailing said. Bears are smart and will learn where to find food if it is left out for them to get into.

A brochure about bears on the DNR’s website has tips to avoid attracting the animals. Black bears have enormous appetites and an excellent sense of smell. They are capable of remembering the locations of food sources from year to year. Bears will travel great distances to find food.

Never intentionally feed a bear, the brochure says. Remove potential food sources, like bird feeders, from the yard, and feed birds in the winter when bears are less active. Keep pet food inside or in a secured area. Keep garbage and odor at a minimum by removing trash often and cleaning containers with disinfectant. Keep garbage in a secured area or in a secured container with a metal, lockable lid until disposal. Keep grills and picnic tables clean. Apiaries (bee hives), fruit trees and gardens can be protected from bears by electric fencing.

Even with a careful eye on food and garbage, people still may run across the large critters occasionally.

“If you see a bear, make sure it knows you’re there,” Kailing said. “Talk to it or yell, but don’t run away. The bear is more afraid of you than you are of it. It’s important to respect the bears; don’t fear them. “

The DNR’s bear brochure encourages people to be SMART if they encounter a bear: Stand their ground, do not run or play dead. Make loud noises and back away slowly. Always provide a clear, unobstructed escape route for the bear. Rarely do bears attack, if they do, fight back. Treat bears with respect and observe them from a distance.

Bobcats are another animal to observe from a distance, if the elusive animal can be seen at all.

“We have a healthy population of bobcats,” Kailing said. “It is fair to say bobcats are expanding through the lower part of Michigan. They are secretive creatures. Bobcats are skittish.”

If a bobcat knows people are nearby, they turn and run, he said.

Bobcats, like bears, are opportunistic eaters, especially if they find free-range chickens.

Kailing said he gets a call once or twice a year about bobcats picking off chickens. To avoid losing their fowl, homeowners should put the chickens in a cage at night.

Both of these predators are able to be hunted to help keep the populations in check.

“Hunting in our main form of management,” Richardson said. “If we have a strict harvesting rate, the population increases. In Mecosta, the harvest numbers are lower than repopulation numbers so generally there are more bears.”

For more information on either species, or hunting seasons, visit the DNR’s website at michigan.gov/dnr.

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Posted by Meghan Gunther-Haas

Meghan is the education reporter for the Pioneer and Herald Review. She can be reached at (231) 592-8382 or by email at mhaas@pioneergroup.com.

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