Sheriff’s Corner: Take steps to keep nuisance bears at bay

A nuisance bear is any black bear someone considers unwelcome. Everyone has a different idea about what makes a bear unwelcome or unwanted.

Cass County Sheriff Tom Burch
Cass County Sheriff Tom Burch
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In recent years, and especially in the last couple of months, we have noted an increase in nuisance bear complaints and have received requests for information on how to deal with nuisance animals, specifically bear problems.

While most of these complaints are simply reports of bear sightings or nuisance bears that won’t leave a yard, driveway or tree, others are the result of bears damaging or causing property damages to structures, vehicles, landscape and/or crops. We have also taken reports of bears entering residences throw screen or patio type doors and causing damages before leaving. While we understand that the definition of nuisance could be wide-ranging, in this case, “nuisance” is any black bear someone considers unwelcome. Everyone has a different idea about what makes a bear unwelcome or unwanted. Whatever your definition or comfort level, we still received many complaints of bears and problems associated with them. While Cass County does not have an animal control officer, when deputies are dispatched to this type of call, we will do our best to help your situation. We will also recommend removing the source or reason the bear is continuing to return to the property or area.

A common question that we get asked when dealing with nuisance bears is: “Can I shoot a nuisance bear?

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources has a website regarding Killing and Trapping Problem Bears ( ). Homeowners and farm owners kill the majority of nuisance bears, which is allowed in state law. This option can only be used if the bear is causing significant property damage or creating an immediate danger to people or animals. Destroying a bird feeder or unsecured trash cans is not a reason to shoot a bear.

Before you shoot a bear, ask yourself if you have taken all of the necessary precautions to prevent the situation and if killing the animal is your only solution. Call your DNR Area Wildlife Manager to discuss the situation. When a bear is shot by a property owner, it should be reported as soon as possible to a conservation officer (DNR’s TIP Line, 800-652-9093, is available 24/7) so the meat can be salvaged. By law, it must be reported within 48 hours. The property owner may not keep the bear. Bears are the property of the state of Minnesota. The DNR also reports that they do not remove or relocate nuisance bears. This practice ended in 2000 because trapping and moving bears does not resolve the underlying problem, which is the presence of attractive food sources provided by people.


Once a bear finds food on your property, it will likely return for more. Repeated access to food can teach bears to associate homes with a food source and erode the bear’s natural instinct to avoid people. Bears do not forget the locations of food sources. Their keen memories play a critical role in how they forage. The timing, amount and availability of natural foods such as fruits and berries can vary from year to year. In low abundance years, bears may spend more time foraging to meet their calorie needs. Any food sources that are concentrated in calories that humans make easy to get, either on purpose or on accident, can be irresistible to a hungry bear and can cause them to likely return for more.

The DNR has put together several tips for doing your part to not attract bears to your home or property:

  • Remove bird feeders in the spring. If you persist in feeding birds during the summer, remove seed, suet and hummingbird feeders at night. You can also hang bird feeders from a cable out of a bear’s reach: 10-12 feet off the ground and 10 feet from any other trees.
  • Store your trash can in a secure area, such as a sturdy shed or garage, and put it out on the morning of garbage pickup, not the night before. 
  • Wash garbage cans regularly to reduce odors. Rinse food cans and wrappers before disposal.
  • Store meat scraps and fish entrails in the freezer until trash pickup day.
  • Limit compost piles to grass, leaves and garden clippings, and turn piles regularly.
  • Immediately cover composting food scraps with 6 inches or more of brown materials like leaves or 4 inches of green materials like fresh mowed grass.
  • Harvest garden produce as it matures. 
  • Pick up and remove ripe fruit from fruit trees and surrounding grounds. If your fruit crop is too abundant to clean up, consider protecting your fruit trees with energized fencing.
  • Clean grills and store them in a secure location, such as a sturdy shed or garage.
  • Keep doors and windows shut when you are not in your home or cabin. Bears have pushed in screen doors and windows to enter cabins to find food sources when people are not around.

Living in Minnesota means that you are in bear country and are likely sharing spaces. According to the DNR, if a bear comes into your yard:

  • Don’t panic. Don’t approach it. Don’t shoot it. Don’t call 911. The mere presence of bears is not necessarily a problem or threat to your safety. A bear may simply be wandering through and should be left alone if not causing problems.
  • Make noise. Most bears naturally fear people and will leave when they see you. Making a loud noise will usually scare it away.
  • Keep a respectful distance and give the bear an escape route. If a bear woofs, snaps its jaws, slaps the ground or brush, or bluff charges you, you are too close! Back away slowly. Go inside and wait for it to leave.
  • After the bear leaves your yard, remove any non-natural foods that attracted it. Tell your neighbors to secure any attractants.
  • Scare away bears that are on your deck, following the tips above. It is not normal bear behavior to go on a deck, especially in daylight. Such bears do so only because they have been rewarded with human foods and have experienced no negative consequences. Help bears break this bad habit by removing attractants and scaring them away.
  • Leave the bear alone if it is in a tree. It will eventually climb down and go away once it feels safe. People should leave the area and dogs should be put inside.

If you have specific questions that you would like answered in this column or in person, please feel free to contact me anytime using one of the following methods: By email at ; by phone at 218-547-1424 or 800-450-2677; or by mail or in person at the Cass County Sheriff’s Office, 303 Minnesota Ave. W, P.O. Box 1119, Walker, MN, 56484.

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