A state conservation officer says paw prints found behind a home in Dubuque are likely those of a black bear.
The yard where the bear was spotted is in the city of Dubuque, but near a heavily wooded state recreation area known as the Mines of Spain. Nate Johnson — a conservation officer for the Iowa Department of Natural Resources — got a call from the Dubuque County Sheriff’s Office this morning.
“Somebody had a bear walk into their back yard and walk back out,” Johnson told Radio Iowa this afternoon.
Because of recent rains, the bear tracks were easy to see in the mud.
“I was able to get a front paw print measurement of the pad of the front paw there,” Johnson said. “It was approximately four inches wide, so not a tiny bear, but not a giant bear by any means.”
Johnson estimates the bear weighs up to 200 pounds and is probably one or two years old. There were a couple of other black bear sightings reported in Dubuque.
“Somebody witnessed a bear run across the street in front of them,” Johnson said. “…About an hour after that there were some other people that called in and they witnessed a bear going through their backyard and then they ended up reporting to me that there were actually two bears in their backyard, one a little bit bigger than the other. If that information was correct, then we’re probably looking at a mother with a like a year or two-year-old juvenile with it.”
Johnson believes the bear or bears probably made their way down to the woods near Dubuque from Minnesota or Wisconsin.
“Right now we’re just really hoping that they find their way back out-of-town and live their lives wild,” Johnson said, “and not have conflicts with people.”
Experts say black bears are “opportunistic eaters” that consume all sorts of things like grass, berries and fish, but can easily develop a taste for human food. Johnson said the bears may have been attracted to a compost pile in the backyard of the Dubuque home where they were first spotted.
“We want to make sure these bears aren’t associating people and residences with food,” Johnson said.
Black bear cubs are born blind and will stay with their mothers for up to two years. Black bear sightings are rare in Iowa.
“Occasionally we’ll have a bear wander down into Clayton and Allamakee County,” Johnson said. “There was one found dead in Fayette County earlier this spring.”
Johnson believes this is the first confirmed black bear sighting within the city limits of Dubuque, however. If you encounter a bear, Johnson offers this advice: “Don’t turn around and run. Just slowly back away and leave it alone.”
According to Johnson, humans should give any wildlife you happen upon “plenty of space” because even a small baby animal may have a rather large and dangerous parent nearby. Black bears can weigh up to 600 pounds and be up to five-and-a-half feet long. Despite their name, a black bear can be brown, a blueish gray or even look like the color of cinnamon.