DNR checks on yearlings after mama bear killed

A bear died after it was hit by a car near White Cloud. (Courtesy Jodi Jeffers-Clark/June 8, 2015)

WHITE CLOUD, Mich. (WOOD) — The day after a mother bear was struck and killed by a pickup truck on M-37 south of White Cloud, a yearling lumbered across the busy road just a few feet away.

“The bear you saw today is looking for its mom,” Michigan Department of Natural Resources Wildlife Biologist Peter J. Kailing told 24 Hour News 8 on Tuesday. “So it’s trying to figure that out.”

The yearling was one of three orphaned Monday night when their mother was hit by a truck on M-37.

Just before 9 p.m., Kevin Harkness was headed home from a Little League game with his wife and three children when he saw a black blur.

“It was actually the fastest moving animal that I’ve seen,” Harkness said. “I mean, it was flying.”

“It hit right there and then went under the vehicle and you could feel it rolling under the vehicle and then just out the back,” Harkness continued, pointing to his front bumper.

Deputies told him the bear weighed about 250 to 300 pounds. But it caused hardly any damage to his Chevrolet Colorado — not enough to bother fixing.

About half an hour after the crash, Harkness saw two of the yearlings running across the road.

The DNR parks off M-57 south of White Cloud hoping to catch a glimpse of the orphaned yearlings. (June 9, 2015)
(DNR officers park along M-57 hoping to catch a glimpse of the orphaned yearlings.)

DNR officers parked nearby on Tuesday, hoping to catch a glimpse of the bears to see if they are old enough to survive without their mother.

A 24 Hour News 8 crew was behind the officers just before 1 p.m. when one of the yearlings dashed across the busy road and disappeared into the woods. It was about the size of a Labrador retriever — maybe 80 pounds.

“It’s unusual to have bears run in the road in the middle of the day. That is unusual,” Kailing, the DNR Wildlife Biologist, said. “It’s unusual because the sow is dead and so the yearling is looking for her.”

But, he said, the mother likely would have driven off the yearlings soon anyway because it’s almost breeding season.

“There’s not much we can do for a yearling bear that can survive as an adult,” he said. “We don’t want to put it through any trauma, trying to capture it or catch it because that wouldn’t accomplish much.”

“They’ve been with their mother their whole life, so she’s taught them the routine, where to find food, what kind of food, what time of the year,” he continued.

Kailing said the yearlings likely will stay in the area.

“We have a high density of bears in Newaygo County, and they’re becoming more common. We tell people we live in bear country now.”

(Jean Smith captured this photo of a black bear near her house south of White Cloud.)
(Jean Smith captured this photo of a black bear near her house south of White Cloud.)

The “mama bear” and her cubs were regular visitors outside Jean Smith’s house, not far from the crash scene. Smith believes the yearlings were back Tuesday morning, taking down one of her bird feeders.

“At least they knew to come to our yard and get some more food, so they’re still wandering someplace in these woods,” she said.

There have been an increased number of bear sightings this spring in West Michigan including Berrien County, HartfordSouth Haven and Ottawa County. One was spotted south of Cedar Springs in Kent County on Tuesday.

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