Fisherman spots bear in Robinson Twp.

Matt DeYoung • Jul 5, 2018 at 8:00 AM

ROBINSON TWP. — Harve VanDeWeg didn’t quite believe his eyes when he spotted a black bear Sunday morning on the bank of the Grand River.

But after getting a better look, VanDeWeg’s initial reaction proved to be correct. 

“Sunday morning, around 6 a.m., I put in at the launch at 118th (Avenue) and I was going to go fish the breakwall at River Haven Marina,” he said. “The bear was up on the lawn (at the marina). It saw me and it jumped in the little channel, swam to the east, came up out of the water, then just walked rather fast down through the parking lot of the boat launch going east toward VanLopik.

“It just shocked me,” VanDeWeg continued. “I called 911 to see if she wanted to report it to the DNR. ... I hadn’t seen one in a while. Last time I saw a bear while fishing was up in Cadillac. I had to do a double take — that’s a bear, absolutely no doubt about it.”

VanDeWeg described the bear as being very black, and guessed it was an adolescent, maybe a year and a half old. 

That description fits, said Michigan Department of Natural Resources wildlife biologist Nik Kalejs, who works out of the Muskegon State Game Area. 

“Typically, these are generally young animals,” Kalejs explained. “Size estimates vary wildly, and mostly people overestimate size, but typically we’re dealing with yearlings, young animals off on their own for the first time. They leave the home area where they were with a female, with a sow. They can travel a long ways.

“Normally, we start getting these reports in May and June, and after a while, once we get into the heart of summer, things slow down,” he added. “We’ll see if this is phasing out as far as bear activity reports or if we’re seeing some sort of unusual reoccurrence.”

Kalejs said that on Tuesday he talked to the conservation officer who oversees Ottawa County and had not heard of any other bear reports for the past several days. However, early last week, there were several bear sitings in Park Township. 

“It’s been a quiet few days as far as bear sightings and reports, so it’s hard to say,” Kalejs said. “There are so many possibilities. A lot of times, when these critters reach a certain point where the level of disturbance and activity becomes a problem, it works its way back north.”

What should you do if you encounter a bear? Kalejs offers the following advice:

“Black bears, while they’re not a terribly aggressive animal, they’re a large animal that has to be treated with appropriate respect,” he said. “The first order of business when trying to limit any unwanted bear encounters is to control the food source. For most of us, that means things like pet food, grills, containment of garbage and bird feeders. If you’re in an area where there’s been bear reports, I would certainly take down any bird feeders for a couple of weeks to make sure there’s less of an attractive food source, because they certainly will use those bird feeders.

“Other than that, I don’t think most people would have to radically change their lifestyles or activities,” the DNR biologist said. “Folks up north coexist with bears pretty well. If you do see one, don’t try to approach it or feed it. ... If you do come relatively close to one, the advice is, don’t turn and run. Back away slowly. Make sure you’re loud and large looking. Normally, that’s all it takes. It’s pretty rare to have any aggressive behavior.”

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