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Contact: Sue Jennings, 231-326-5134
Northern Michigan and Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore is "bear country" and seeing one of these magnificent creatures may be a highlight of a visit to the park, particularly this summer, as there have been numerous bear sightings within the National Lakeshore near the Platte River Campground. Visitors have observed black bears crossing Lake Michigan Road, in the Platte River, and even traveling through the Platte River Campground. Superintendent Dusty Shultz noted, “This is the first year in recent memory in which bears have been observed so frequently. As always, the safety of our visitors and staff is our first priority.”
Park officials are compiling data on bear observations and if the bear obtained food from sources within the campground. Visitors have been very helpful in reporting the details of their sighting. Bears, like humans, are omnivores. Most of their diet is berries, nuts, and insects, but they are attracted to human food and have a very strong sense of smell. “We’ve been fortunate there have not been any serious incidents,” said Park Biologist Sue Jennings. She attributes this to efforts to educate campers about bear behavior and the importance of proper food storage in the campground, as well as more frequent service of campground trash containers. “We’ve had very good compliance from our campers,” noted Jennings.
To help ensure that there are no serious incidents, Park Rangers have been trained in non-lethal hazing techniques, such as firing empty rounds to scare the animal or shooting bean bag rounds at its rump, which will provide enough of a sting that it will think twice about returning to the area. If a bear is successful in obtaining human food, it may become habituated and return to the area in search of an easy meal. If it loses its fear of people, it becomes more difficult to scare away. These habituated bears can pose a serious threat to people and often must be lethally removed. Additionally, garbage-fed bears may be unable to obtain the nutrition they need and can sustain life-threatening injuries from eating food scraps out of cans, bottles, or plastics.
The park is requiring campers to store food, food containers, and stoves in their vehicles anytime campsites are left unattended and to empty food scraps into a trash bag before placing it in a dumpster. Campers who fail to do so may be subject to fines. Park staff also recommends that area homeowners remove bird feeders from their yards and place trash out the morning of the collection day rather than the night before. At least one nearby bird feeder has been destroyed by a bear.
Park Rangers advise that if you encounter a bear, you do not need to panic. The best thing to do is slowly walk, not run, away. If the bear starts to show aggressive behavior such as clacking its teeth, swiping at the ground, or making loud noises, you are too close. If the bear is aggressive, you should make yourself look as large as possible, and make loud noise by shouting or banging items together.
Superintendent Shultz added, “Seeing a bear can be the thrill of a lifetime, but one ideally experienced at a distance. Our visitors are playing a key role in making sure that this beautiful animal does not become a problem.”
To report bear sightings or to obtain additional information, please contact Park Headquarters at 231-326-5134.