A Tale of Black Bears in the Upper Midwest

Brief History

Black Bears shared an expansive history in the upper Midwest prior to European settlement. Located in primarily dense wooded areas, their population decreased as colonization became more widespread. Their population was decimated by the early 1900s due to their efforts in damaging crops, harassing livestock, and the value found in their hides.

Upper Midwest Population

Black Bears are primarily found in upper Michigan and Wisconsin, but were prevalent in more than 48 counties in Iowa prior to the 1900s. The last documented black bear was shot near Spirit Lake in 1876. In Minnesota, the black bear population suffered due to a lack of legal protection. In 1971, black bears became protected as a big game species and the harvest season was reduced from 52 weeks to 6 weeks. As a result, the population recovered from 6,000 to nearly 20,000 in present day. Wisconsin shares a similar history, with their population recovering from 6,000 to nearly 29,000 after legal efforts. As previously stated, black bears in Minnesota and Michigan share most of their density in the northern regions of the two states, but can be found in southern regions as well.

Bear Safety

With all this bear talk, what should be done if one is encountered in the wild? The National Park service has a few tips that can help deescalate the situation. Their first tip is to identify yourself to the bear. Make it know that you are not prey, but human. They are not inherently violent, but their second tip is stay calm. Sudden movements or things that could startle the bear could warrant an uncharacteristic reaction. Third tip is to hike and travel in groups. The large noise and strong human smell groups provide make bears aware of the presence and less likely to engage. Four tip is to expand your presence. It might sound ridiculous, but the larger you make yourself look, the more weary the bear may be to attack. Fifth tip is to keep your food out of their reach. Make sure to lock up any food and to not leave any remnants behind you. Sixth and last tip is to never get between a female and her cubs. An attack is greatly increased if a momma bear feels that her cubs are threatened.


Minnesota Department of Natural Resources

Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources

National Parks Service

Iowa Department of Natural Resources

Joonho Musonda