DNR tracks black bears in West MI

FILE PHOTO (AP/Toby Talbot)

MUSKEGON, Mich. (WOOD) — The Michigan Department of Natural Resources is working to track the state’s black bears as sightings increase in counties as far south as Kent.

In the last two years, 24 Hour News 8 has reported several bear sightings here in West Michigan. And just Tuesday, police were dispatched to a report of a mother bear and two cubs on a on-ramp to eastbound I-96 near Fruitport.

“We’ve gone from a time in the late ’80s where that was virtually unheard of to fairly regular sightings every year,” Nick Kalejs of the DNR said.

Now, the DNR is tracking bears in an effort to figure out whether they’ll continue to head south and how close to populated areas they typically get.

“I believe they’ve collared in the last four years 18 bears,” Kalejs said. “Each one of those radio or GPS collars gives off a fantastic amount of data points.”

The bear tracking study has found that the animals ramble far and wide — especially the young males, which make up most of the area’s bear population. One bear the DNR was watching trekked more than 130 miles in a month from Muskegon County to the Houghton Lake area in central northern Michigan.

“What’s interesting is there seems to be a fairly large reluctance by the bears to occupy a lot of the habitat territories that have substantial areas of open agricultural land,” Kalejs said.

In layman’s terms, that means the bears are sticking to the woods. Except for an occasional wanderer, they seem reluctant to move even farther south.

“Overall, the movement into southern Michigan has been slower than what we expected,” Kalejs said.

The bear study is winding down. After the DNR goes through its data, it will release more information.

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