Congdon bear shows face, then hunkers down
Duluth neighborhood bear hibernating under family's front yard.
Duluth’s semi-famous, late-hibernating black bear has shown its face, but not for long, and now appears to have finally hunkered down for its winter nap.
The bear, which dug its den under the Anderson family's front yard in the Congdon neighborhood sometime in November, hasn’t been seen since the season’s first big snowfall Dec. 5.
Before that, the bear had been making nightly excursions to neighbors' garbage cans, gardens and front steps to find trash, pumpkins and anything else edible.
PREVIOUSLY: Bear moves in under Duluth front yard
Jeanette Anderson received some advice from independent bear researcher Lynn Rogers, of Ely, who came down to look at the den. Some friends of Anderson purchased and set up two trail cameras on trees near the den, just in time before the bear decided to stay underground.
The cameras captured the bear emerging from the den for just a few minutes on one night.
“It’s as if he came up and knew something was different with the cameras flashing and then decided to go back down and stay,” Anderson said. “There haven't been any tracks in the snow.”
Most northern Minnesota bears go into hibernation by mid-October, with some as early as September and maybe a few as late as November. But Martha Minchak, assistant area wildlife manager for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, said Duluth bears, maybe due to the easy access to ample human food, seem to stay up later, leading to nuisance bear calls all winter in some cases.
Upon seeing photos of the Congdon bear, Rogers, who helped form the North American Bear Center in Ely and has studied bears for more than 50 years, said the bear under Andersons' yard appears in good shape.
“I can’t tell if it is a male or a female. I’d guess the weight at 200-250 from the look of the head, ears and body,” Rogers told the News Tribune. “If it’s a male, that would make it an adolescent at 3-5 years old, depending on how well fed he has been. If it is a female, she could have cubs in January.”
Rogers said most bears hibernate on schedule, even if extra food is available, and said the Congdon bear is an outlier for staying active into December. Most bears would emerge from the den in spring, often in April. But with this bear, it's anyone's guess.
Rogers, who looked deep into the den while visiting the site earlier this month, said there is a vast area underground for the bear to call home. The den is marked by a retaining wall on one side and a series of large, underground openings created by big chunks of rock, apparently deposited there when the neighborhood was developed 100 years ago.
Rogers said the bear likely poses no threat to people, and he hopes people won’t be a problem for the bear. Unlike many cities where a bear would be an unusual curiosity, Duluth has had plenty of bear visits and bear residents of its own.
“Duluthians have seen enough bears that they are unusually tolerant. I remember a big male that was eating a deer carcass right beside the Lakewalk some years ago. People walked past the bear, rode bicycles past the bear, or were walking their dogs. The bear ignored them, and the people enjoyed the experience,” Rogers said. “Some stopped to take photographs to send me and then continued on.”
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Anderson said that, after a News Tribune story on the bear earlier this month, some people have figured out where the bear den is and have come to ogle the 24-inch hole in her yard. Now, she hopes people will just let the bear sleep this winter. She’s considering putting up a "No Trespassing" sign to encourage people to stay away from the den.
“I would hope now he feels safe and can winter right there,’’ she said. “I don't want to create a nuisance bear. But I’m not going to throw him out at this point. I’m really hoping no harm comes to it.”
John Myers reports on the outdoors, environment and natural resources for the Duluth News Tribune. He can be reached at email@example.com .