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Residents of Duluth neighborhood will pay trapper to relocate nuisance black bear

This black bear, photographed by Park Point resident Tom Mackay, has been making the rounds on Park Point for several weeks. The DNR told residents they would trap and kill the bear if it was becoming a problem, or residents could pay to have it relocated. (Photo by Tom Mackay)

The little black bear's carefree days of frolicking on Park Point beaches and raiding yards for food may soon come to an end in a bear trap, but what happens after that remains unclear.

Deluged with calls from residents complaining about the bear causing damage and scaring people, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources wildlife officials gave their standard response: Learn to live with the bear or we'll trap and kill it.

"That's the message we give everyone, and usually people don't call back. If they take away the food source, the garbage and the bird feed and whatever, the bear will nine times out of 10 move on," said Rich Staffon, area wildlife manager for the DNR. "But in this case we have reports of some people feeding this bear ... and that doesn't work well when their neighbors want it gone."

Martha Minchak, DNR wildlife manager in Duluth, said she received nearly 20 complaints about the bear in late May and early June. She informed some residents that the bear would be trapped and killed if complaints continued.

But several Park Point residents rallied on the bear's behalf, saying they don't want to see it killed. On Sunday about a dozen bear supporters held a bear drive -- a group walk through the woods intended to push the bear off the point, across the Superior Entry and onto the more undeveloped Wisconsin Point.

"It didn't work. We never saw it," said Dick Gould, a Park Point resident who doesn't want the bear shot.

Minchak suggested that residents who felt strongly about saving the bear could pay for a state-certified private trapper to catch the bear and move it to a wildlife sanctuary or somewhere out of town.

On Monday, Gould said he would use up to $200 of Park Point Community Club money to hire a private trapper for the job. Traps could be set as early as today.

"We can ask people to donate to help save the bear," Gould said. "Most of us (on Park Point) don't want to see it shot just because it was bothering a couple people."

Minchak said the bear must be taken far away, possibly to the Vince Schute bear sanctuary near Orr, a privately owned bear-feeding area.

If the effort fails, and complaints continue, the DNR may end up euthanizing the bear.

The DNR stopped trapping and relocating bears more than a decade ago when a study of ear-tagged bears that were relocated found more than two-thirds returned to where they were trapped, even if driven 40 to 60 miles before being released.

Many of those that didn't make it back, often young males, were struck and killed by vehicles as they tried to return, or were killed by adult male bears protecting their mating territory.

So now the DNR simply euthanizes problem bears after they are trapped. "But we haven't had to do that in Duluth for maybe five years now," Staffon said. "People are much better about living with bears. Now, when we get a call about a bear, it's usually someone who just moved into the area" and doesn't know about Duluth's resident bear population.

Twenty years ago, the DNR was trapping 25 to 30 bears each year in and near Duluth. Now, it's only one per year or none at all, Staffon said, even though the bear population is stable or increasing.

It's not clear how the bear got to Park Point to begin with, but bears are strong swimmers and could easily have crossed part of the lake or harbor or swum across Superior Entry from Wisconsin to get there.