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Oh my gosh - There’s a black bear!

April 30, 2017
Kevin Williams - Grundy County Conservation Director , Reinbeck Courier

Last Easter Sunday there was a black bear sighting near Wellsburg. Yes, I know that is old news. One of the downfalls to writing a weekly news column for a weekly paper is that I rarely (never) get to be the first to report a wonderful scoop.

I also don't get caught (very often) making wild and crazy predictions about something let's take for instance a bear story like "we'll never see Black Bears in Grundy or Tama Counties."

So, as almost everyone living in Iowa knows, a young black bear was reported near Wellsburg on that Sunday morning. By 4:00 PM on Monday it was spotted near Garwin. That is 26.75 miles as the crow flies (or should I say bear runs). And by my calculations, this bear traveled that distance in somewhere around 1 mile per hour! When you factor in that this bear was literally watched by folks nearly all of that distance, I am surprised the average pace wasn't quicker than that.

There is drone video of the bear. There are Facebook postings, photos and video of the bear. I received my share of calls to the office about the bear and I was never lucky enough to see it. Most were concerned about livestock and pets. Some thought it had been released by the DNR and possibly had an ear tag or radio collar. Some were concerned for the safety of the bear and whether wildlife officials would capture and take it home. Well plain and simple no one knows for sure where home is. Home for the moment is Iowa. Maybe.

The bear sightings dried up when it reached habitat that makes it far harder to keep an eye on him. I pulled up the columns I have done about bears. There are three. One in 2007, the next in 2010 and the last in 2015. And a fourth as soon as I press the send button this morning.

In recent years there have been increased but still very much occasional reports of black bears in Iowa. All would appear to be individuals that have wandered in from surrounding states or escaped from captivity. Black bear as a species will go through natural dispersal cycles when their numbers are more plentiful. That is natural way for a species to increase its range. But I wouldn't worry much about it. The black bear historically was found in small numbers in Iowa. We are even a less attractive place for black bears today.

I pulled out Jim Dinsmore's book "A Country So Full of Game" for the Iowa historical bear accounts that I wanted to share again today.

Forty-eight counties in Iowa have black bear history. Also supporting the evidence that black bear were found in Iowa is the fact that there are eighteen Bear Creeks and four Little Bear Creeks within our borders. One of the Bear Creeks is in Grundy County. The last black bear sighting in Grundy County was one shot in 1855. The black bear was Iowa's largest predator and certainly had to be very noticeable when encountered because adults can reach weights in excess of 300 pounds.

A common thread in most pioneer accounts is the hunting down and eventually killing of the animal. First someone spots a bear or bear tracks. Then he goes to gather some neighbors and together with a few dogs, they go forth to pick up the trail of the bear. And more times than not, they get their prize.

People calling their neighbors and following the bear. Things haven't changed in over 150 years.



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