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Robin Washington: This story bears repeating

If you've heard this before, bear with me. Last Thursday -- Sept. 1, 2011 -- a black bear made the front page of the News Tribune in the article, "Face to face with a bear!" And on Sept. 1, 2010, a similar photo of another bear (we can't guarante...

If you've heard this before, bear with me.

Last Thursday -- Sept. 1, 2011 -- a black bear made the front page of the News Tribune in the article, "Face to face with a bear!"

And on Sept. 1, 2010, a similar photo of another bear (we can't guarantee it wasn't the same one) occupied the same spot in that day's paper, with the story, "Bear complaints on the rise in Duluth, Two Harbors."

Not completely unrelated is that September 1 happens to be the opening of bear season. But the stories were more about bears happening upon humans than people looking for bears. For that, I blame the bears, with the hunch that by the end of the summer, they're probably getting friskier about finding food and likely to have more encounters with humans.

To my surprise, the bear people at the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources agreed with me.

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"It's not coincidental at all. This is sort of the peak of it. There are a lot of bears moving around right now," said Dave Garshelis of the DNR's office in Grand Rapids. "They're going to have to go six months without eating pretty soon. If the area where they live doesn't provide that food, then they'll go on this movement."

Ditto, said Rich Staffon, Garshelis' DNR colleague in Cloquet, adding that the bears' hibernation begins in about mid-October.

"They're in that part of the year where they're trying find food that has a lot of calories that can put fat on them," he said, explaining the summer's berries are pretty much gone and their diet shifts to things like hazelnuts and acorns.

And if the bear store is out of those delicacies, expect to see them shopping in your backyard.

"They're probably after bird seed and garbage more than they are earlier in the summer. This time of year, people will be having bears in their apple trees," Staffon said.

While that explains bear behavior, how newspaper people can design the same front page twice is a different phenomenon, though it happens frequently enough. A headline we think is clever and unique to the DNT might surprise us when it shows up the next day on the front of the

Minneapolis Star Tribune.

And it's a conspiracy theorists' field day whenever Time and Newsweek, competitors who don't talk to each other, run nearly identical covers.

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The reality is human beings, like bears, tend to think alike and there are only so many ways to say things in print, especially about periodic events like Christmas, back-to-school and the return of the bears.

The News Tribune's archives bears this out, with regular September bear-sighting news briefs over the years (though the search is hampered by references to the Chicago Bears, Black Bear Casino and the Second Amendment). Longer reports ran in 2007 -- yet again on Sept. 1, though it didn't make Page 1 -- and on Sept. 7, 2003, which noted a decrease in Duluth bear sightings from 250 annually a few years earlier just 90 that year.

A "Days Gone By" reference to Sept. 6, 1986, shows the numbers indeed were much higher earlier, stating: "24 sightings of black bears have been reported in the past two days in Duluth." Not long before, Earl Ellis of Duluth had his back porch encounter with a bear that "picked up the garbage can, just like you and me," he said -- adding, without prompting, "It happened on Labor Day."

But as people have become more used to city bears, reports have gone down, the DNR says. And despite our Sept. 1 specials, not every bear story makes the paper, as Inge Maskun found out after husband Charlie Stauduhar sent in some too-cute pictures of a mama bear and her cubs in their Duluth backyard that we didn't run.

"It was in May of last year," she said.

No wonder. That early would have been more than we could bear.

Robin Washington is editor of the News Tribune. He may be reached at rwashington@duluthnews.com .

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