[ The Real McCoy Online Home ]                                                                                                               September 26, 2008

Black bear sightings reported in 
Fort McCoy, surrounding area

During the past 10 years, black bear populations, and their subsequent sightings, have been increasing on Fort McCoy and throughout the surrounding area.

Photo: Black bears may look nonthreatening, but they are dangerous, and anyone seeing or encountering them should not approach them. (Contributed photo)
Black bears may look nonthreatening, but they are dangerous, and anyone seeing or encountering them should not approach them. 
(Contributed photo)

"Black bears have been in this area for many years, but not at the current level," said David Beckmann, Fort McCoy Wildlife Biologist. "Earlier reports, typically no more than one per year, generally came from landowners or individuals in areas along Highway 16 and near the North Flowage."

Although black bear populations and distribution slowly are increasing in and around Fort McCoy, including the cantonment area, encounters with a bear remain rare. A few people have had the unique opportunity to see a bear while traveling through the installation; others have only seen photos or heard the stories. Reports of human-bear confrontation or attacks also are very rare.

"Bears typically will avoid human contact whenever possible," said Beckmann. Attacks happen when a bear is surprised or startled, or someone comes between a female (sow) and its cub. 

With a larger bear population, the risk of a bear attack may increase, especially if the bear feels threatened or human actions attract bears. The best way to reduce the chance of confronting a bear is to take proper safety precautions. Many of the guidelines also apply in good part to other animals. Remember these are wild animals, and although they may be conditioned to be tolerant of human presence, people should not approach bears under any circumstances.

The following safety tips can help reduce the dangers.

To avoid attracting a bear:
     • Do not leave food or food scraps in the open, especially at night
     • Securely close or cover garbage cans and composting piles. If possible, place garbage cans in an enclosure or building.
     • If a bear is getting into garbage cans or another food source such as a bird feeder, remove the source for a period of time.

When encountering a bear:
     • Above all, remain calm. Black bears generally are not confrontational.
     • If you see a bear and the bear does not see you, back away quietly.
     • Bears are curious. If a bear sees you, get its attention while it is a good distance away by talking or making noise. This will alert the bear to your presence. If a bear cannot identify you, it may come closer or stand on its hind legs to get a better look or smell. A standing bear usually is curious, not threatening.
     • Some bears will charge and then turn away in a bluff; stand your ground and do not run.
     • Like some dogs, bears are excited by the chase. A bear can run up to 30 mph. There is no way you could outrun a bear.
     • Never feed or toss food to a bear.
     • If you are carrying gear (bag or camera), toss it away from you on the ground, the bear may be distracted by the object and leave you alone.
     • Never back a bear into a "corner" or get between a sow and her cubs. A bear will exhibit threatening behavior (popping its jaw or swatting the ground) to let you know that you are too close. If this happens, move away slowly.
     • If you are attacked by a black bear, stand your ground and fight back. Act fierce, yell, scream, and try to punch the bear in the eyes or snout. This may daze it enough for you to get away.

Things to do while camping:
     • Avoid storing food in your tent.
     • Keep the site clean. Dispose of all garbage, put food away and wipe down tables.
     • Avoid foods that have strong smells; try to keep the smell of food off you and your clothing.
     • Meals, scraps, and garbage all mean food to a hungry bear.

While out hiking on a trail:
     • Do not surprise bears close up. Don’t sneak around; letting bears know you are in the area well in advance will help avoid confrontations. If possible, travel with a group. Groups are noisier and easier for bears to detect.
     • Bears can be out at any time but are most active at dawn and dusk.
     • Leave your dog at home or at the campsite — bears and pets don’t mix.
     Bear sightings or other signs of bear activity at McCoy should be reported by calling (608) 388-5374 or (608) 388-2308.


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