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Aggressive bears reported in St. Croix County

U.S. Fish and Wildlife officials placed this warning sign at the Betterly WPA, just outside New Richmond. Tom Lindfors / RiverTown Multimedia

A hunter's close encounter with two bears in St. Croix County has prompted a warning from Department of Natural Resources officials.

The incident, which occurred May 13, involved a turkey hunter at Betterly Waterfowl Production Area, where he was approached by a yearling bear that came within 10 feet. The hunter first tried scaring the bear off by yelling at it — and then noticed a second, larger bear nearby.

The hunter began walking away, but was pursued by the smaller bear. The hunter fired a warning shot into the air, which sent the yearling bear running.

While leaving the area, the hunter noticed the yearling following him again, so he repeated the warning shot. That didn't work the second time.

The hunter reported to the DNR that both bears were trailing him as he retreated from the area until he reached an open field. That's when he was able to run back to his vehicle.

Wisconsin DNR wildlife biologist Ryan Haffele called the interaction aggressive and "pretty unusual."

"There's definitely something interesting going on," he said.

The incident led to the department setting traps for the bears. Haffele said signs have also been posted around Betterly WPA warning hunters that the area contains bears that are unafraid of humans.

A DNR press release describes a report from federal wildlife services of a yearling bear in the area that was "exhibiting little fear of humans when visiting a bird feeder." In those instances, a homeowner removed the feeders to prevent more trouble.

Haffele said bears can lose their fear of humans if they've been fed by people. He said that's not been confirmed in the St. Croix County reports, but added that it is "a pretty good assumption."

As for the hunter — who the DNR would not identify — at Betterly WPA, Haffele said he did everything right: The hunter made noise, tried scaring it off, didn't immediately turn and run and gave the bears escape routes.

"That's kind of what we preach on and what you should do," Haffele said.

The DNR recommends making noise when hiking or hunting in areas where bears live. Bears can become aggressive when startled.

"If a bear gets too close, yell and wave your arms to scare the bear off while backing away from the area," DNR wildlife damage specialist Brad Koele said in a news release. "If possible, seek shelter in a vehicle or building and wait for the bear to leave. Never approach a bear."

Bears living in and around the Betterly WPA, located about three miles east of New Richmond, is not uncommon, Haffele said. The area contains the Willow River, a wooded corridor frequented by wildlife that continues northeast to "excellent bear habitat," Haffele said.

Mike Longaecker

Mike Longaecker is the regional public safety reporter for RiverTown Multimedia. His coverage area spans St. Croix and Pierce counties. Longaecker served from 2011-2015 as editor of the Woodbury Bulletin. A University of Wisconsin-River Falls graduate, Longaecker previously reported for the Red Wing Republican Eagle and for the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau. You can follow him on Twitter at @Longaecker

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