Throughout the past few decades, black bears have moved deeper and deeper into southern Michigan. Although the majority of the population remains in the Upper Peninsula and the northern Lower Peninsula, bear sightings in the southern peninsula have become more frequent, with confirmed sightings in Ionia, Battle Creek, Jackson, and Washtenaw counties.
And although there have yet to be any confirmed sightings in Oakland County, state Department of Natural Resources and Environment (DNRE) bear specialist Adam Bump said it wouldn’t surprise him if bears were spotted in Oakland County.
“We’ve had a couple fairly creditable calls in Oakland County reporting bear sightings,” he said. “There weren’t any tracks or pictures to confirm, but it wouldn’t shock me if someone saw one by their birdfeeder in their backyard. They’ve made it farther south than you think.”
Bump points to a couple explanations for why people are seeing more bears turning up in southern Michigan. The first is natural dispersal.
“It’s just a natural tendency to spread out and look for unoccupied territory to set up home ranges,” he said.
Bump added that this movement south is not a reflection of an overcrowded population in the northern Lower Peninsula, although the population of black bears has risen slightly over the past two decades.
“It’s not so much that there are so many Up North but more that the bears just start heading in the first direction that looks nice to them which is usually to follow forested river corridors south,” he said.
While most of the bears traveling this way are males around the ages of 1.5 to 2 years, Bump said female bears have also been traveling south, allowing the bear population in southern Michigan to become even further established through natural reproduction.
And although they prefer forested areas along river corridors, there have been numerous confirmed sightings of black bears in open fields.
While Bump said that seeing a bear in one’s own backyard would be a “rare treat,” he explained that bear attacks are very rare and usually revolve around protecting cubs.
“If you do run into a bear and it doesn’t run off, which happens 99 percent of the time, you should talk to them in a loud, firm voice and back away from them,” Bump said.
He also added that those who may see a bear or come across physical evidence that a bear has been nearby should contact the DNRE’s Dwayne Etter at 517-641-4903, ext. 256, as department personnel are looking to radio collar a few for studies.