An expert at the Iowa DNR says the strong populations of black bears in neighboring states will likely lead to the animal reestablishing in Iowa.
Wildlife research biologist Vince Evelsizer says bears have been strictly tourists dropping in for a visit from Minnesota and Wisconsin — but conditions are right for bears to settle down here.
“Some of eastern Iowa, northeast Iowa, parts of southern Iowa may have suitable enough habitat to support a small breeding population. That’s not going on at this time,” according to Evelsizer, “but there’s a chance that they will perhaps have a few cubs and get a small breeding population in the not to distant future.”
There have been 43 confirmed black bears in Iowa since 2002, and two to five per year since 2014. Evelsizer says they start showing up in late spring and into July when they are mating, and those sightings are likely to increase.
“Early on here we just want folks to know about this and for all of us to just kind of get used to that idea that there could be a black bear around in our woods, something that we haven’t had for over a hundred years or so, getting used to that,” Evelsizer says. “Most bears are shy and reclusive, but there’s likely going to be some cases where we are going to have some human/bear nuisance issues — like with garbage or bird feeders.”
He says the original populations of bears were hunted to extinction in Iowa. The black bear population in Wisconsin is estimated at close to 30,000, Minnesota has around 15,00, and Missouri around 1,000. Evelsizer says those states have worked ways to deal with the animals.
“There’s precautions us humans can take to minimize those conflicts if we do see more bears move into our state,” he says. “So, it’s really about trying to live with bears as successfully as possible if we do see more.” He says there are always mixed reactions when you have changes.
“Some folks are going to like having bears back in Iowa — and we understand that some folks won’t like that. We are not actively bringing bears back into our state. At the same time, we are not going to extirpate every bear that does come back into our state,” Evelsizer says.
As a biologist, Evelsizer likes seeing a species that was once prominent return to the state. “Their role ecosystem-wise is that they are a top-end large carnivore, but they are mainly an omnivore. They eat meat. They will eat some fawns and some things like that and scavenge on carcasses,” Evelsizer says. “But they are also important to have, they eat a lot of different plants, seeds, and berries…a large animal out there that eats a lot of different things and can spread the seeds around, that kind of thing.”
Evelsizer says you can send the DNR information if you spot a bear. “If they see a bear it’s actually a really effective and healthy way to keep track of and monitor bears in our state. They can contact us if they see one — photos or video of the animal is helpful,” Evelsizer says. He says avoid having people crowd around the animal and don’t try to get too close. If you encounter a bear he advises you not to run, but to back away slowly and cautiously while facing it. Make noise so they know you’re there.
Evelsizer says a good resource on bears is www.bearwise.org