State mammal? Students want the black bear

American black bear. Taken at Cincinnati Zoo. Photo by Greg Hume.

There was a time when the black bear was not a common resident of central Minnesota and even in the northern suburbs of the Twin Cities. Now, black bear sightings have become more common in many locations throughout the state.
Congratulations to Dana Coleman’s first grade class at Andover Elementary School in Andover for taking up a project that could result in the black bear being named Minnesota’s official mammal. Coleman’s class has been studying black bears at the North American Bear Center in Ely.
Just a few weeks ago, Sen.  Michelle Benson, R-Ham Lake, was accompanied by first grader Grace Stone who testified in favor of the black bear being named Minnesota’s top mammal.  Our ECM Publishers Capitol Reporter Tim Budig was in attendance as Grace and some of her fellow students attended a Veterans Committee hearing at the State Capitol and saw the committee pass the black bear designation bill. See Budig’s story at http://hometownsource.com/2012/03/12/andover-elementary-first-graders-push-black-bear-as-states-official-mammal/
Whether the bill will be passed this session is not known.
I’m only one opinion but agree that the black bear, a beautiful animal of authority, should be designated Minnesota’s official mammal. My first involvement with bears came in 1972 when our family just moved into a three-bedroom rambler west of Forest Lake.
In May of 1972 there had been reports of black bear sightings near Forest Lake. This was a very unusual occurrence.
I was mowing my lawn on this particular sunny late afternoon when a car stopped by my driveway, the driver saying, “Did you know you have a bear in your woods just a few yards from you?” We had an eight-acre tract of pine trees planted just to the north of our property line.
Before I even could check out the bear sighting, My three-year-old son Troy and I went next door to my neighbor to the south. We then jumped in his car and went around the block, coming in view of a good-sized black bear sitting on his rump in a clearing in the woods. I went back to my house and called the Carlos Avery Wildlife Area telling the manager on duty that I had a black bear in my backyard. The manager replied, “No, I don’t think so because we captured the bear in Blaine earlier today.” My immediate response was, “You didn’t get this one.”
It took a few hours for a conservation officer to respond because he was on another major call. When he arrived, my neighbors had chased the bear (not a good idea) and treed him about a mile from our house.
The conservation officer very bravely and professionally removed the bear from the tree by using a tranquilizer gun. The bear was then safely and unconsciously placed in the conservation officer’s car trunk. Prior to the bear’s capture, I was able to get some good photos of the bear staring at us from the tree. Because of the uncommon sighting at that time, the Associated Press was interested in the photo. The photo was posted on the wire and published nationwide.
A few days later, I went to Carlos Avery to visit the two bears that were being kept in cages side by side. Each weighed about 200 pounds, I was told. The plan was to free the bears into the wild of the Mille Lacs Area Wildlife Refuge. Prior to placing the bears into the wild, conservation officials placed tags on the bears.
My story has sort of a sad ending because the bear that was in our neighborhood reportedly was later struck and killed by a car in the Mille Lacs Area Wildlife Refuge.
My dealings with bears continued a few years later when my son and I were on a fishing trip into Canada near the Red Lake Reservation. Hearing some funny sounds emanating from a wooded area in our campground, I checked it out and saw a bear had invaded the neighborhood. We made no rash moves and he left on his own terms.
Yes, I admire what  Dana Coleman and her students have been doing to learn more about this furry mammal. They have taken it a giant step farther by attempting to make a law. Congrats also to Sen. Benson for working with the elementary students. Only Minnesota, Indiana, Iowa and Rhode Island do not have official mammals.
Let’s travel the Internet and learn more about the black bear. One of the best sites possibly  having the most helpful information can be found at the North American Bear Center: http://www.bear.org/website/
Read the Mission Statement of the Bear Center: “The mission of the non-profit North American Bear Center is to advance the long-term survival of bears worldwide by replacing misconceptions with scientific facts about bears, their role in ecosystems, and their relations with humans.
“There is a huge need for accurate information about bears worldwide.  Bears have been unfairly demonized for centuries.  Exaggerated perceptions of danger historically led to eradication campaigns using bounties, poison, trapping, and shooting.  All eight bear species around the world are now listed as vulnerable, threatened or endangered in all or portions of their ranges.  Remote habitats that once insured isolation and protection are now being occupied by people, and the attitudes of these people will determine the future of those populations.
“The Bear Center is dedicated to replacing misconceptions with facts worldwide.  It is also working to conserve bear habitat, stop poaching for bear body parts, rehabilitate injured and orphaned bears back to the wild, and implement methods to reduce conflict between humans and bears.”
Lynn Rogers, PhD, is chair of the Bear Center Board of Directors. He was the leading force in placing a video cam in the den of a black bear and watching the chronology of its delivery of a young one. The Bear Center then followed the development of the cub bear. Website hits went through the roof as people from around the world visited the website.
Find out more about the black bear by going to this Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) web page: http://www.dnr.state.mn.us/mammals/blackbear.html
There are roughly 20,000 black bears in Minnesota. Sport hunting is their main source of mortality. Minnesota hunters harvest an average of about 3,000 black bears annually.  Bear hunting license sales are restricted in most of the range to maintain a desired harvest and population size. Visit Wikipedia for more information on the black bear: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/American_black_bear
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