Michigan Residents Seeing More Black Bears

Wildlife officials say bruins are moving around, but food and habitat for hibernation will be critical to establish new territories.

Michigan Residents Seeing More Black Bears

Michigan hunters were able to take about 1,900 black bears statewide during the 2022 season. Photo: www.iStockphoto.com/Jillian Cooper

The black bear population in the lower half of Michigan has risen sharply during the past decade, according to the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. Cody Norton, a bear specialist with the DNR’s Wildlife Division, told WOOD TV-8 that bears are expanding their range to find new territory. 

“Right now, our estimate is that [the black bear population in the Lower Peninsula] has increased almost 70 percent since 2012,” he said. “Not only has the abundance increased, but the distribution also has increased. We have bears expanding into areas where there have not been bears in the recent past.” 

The Michigan DNR began trimming the number of bear hunting permits in 2012. That was specifically to help get bear numbers back in line with long-term averages and other species. By 2021, the agency estimates 10,650 black bears in the Upper Peninsula and 2,200 in the Lower Peninsula. Hunters were able to take about 1,900 statewide during the 2022 season. 

Norton said black bear sows have a home range of about 50 square miles, while boars might have ranges of up to 335 square miles. Sows often overlap ranges, but boars typically do not. With more growth in the Lower Peninsula, Norton said habitat and shelter will be main concerns along with food. 

“Typically, black bears need forests to do well. But in Michigan and in other areas, we are starting to see bears colonize and do well in habitats that previously we might not have expected them to do that in,” he said. “In the Gladwin area … bears have typically been kind of stopped right around where it turns to mostly [agricultural]. Now, we’re starting to see them keep creeping down along waterways, rivers, things like that, where you’re going to have more of a forested habitat that might be more conducive [for bears],” he said. “I think it’s going to be something very interesting for us to watch and see what is enough.”


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