SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — The flurry of black bear sightings in the Rapid City has Game Fish and Parks officials excited, said Mike Klosowski, the regional wildlife supervisor for the GFP’s Black Hills Region.
“It’s a very exciting time for South Dakota,” Klosowski said. “We do believe these are multiple bears.”
Bears have been recently been sighted in Lead, Spearfish, Johnson Siding and last weekend in Rapid City, according to the GFP. “This spring, 2021, we have quite a flurry of observations and confirmed sightings,” Klosowski said.
Based on the location and timing of the sightings, Klosowski said the GFP believes there are multiple bears involved.
Klosowski said the bears are likely young bears. It’s common for younger bears to leave familiar territory in search of their own habitat and breeding opportunities, he said.
The GFP is tracking the bears, as best as possible, to learn if they are transient and will be leaving in the Black Hills area or if they will “set up shop” in the region, Klosowski said.
So far, residents and property owner have provided data about the bears and GFP follows up.
“One bear was sighted in Rapid City for a few days. He was getting into garbage cans…,” Klosowski said.
Are these the average bear?
The Rapid City bear was a category 2 bear in three categories the GPF has.
Category 2 bears “are not a threat to life or property” but they can be a nusiance, he said. If a bear gets used to digging in garbage cans or in grease barrels, it can grow accustomed to life in the city, Klosowski said. That’s not the best situation for the bear for for residents and property owners.
A situation like that could require the GFP to use rubber ruckshot to scare the bear from the area, he said. The bear would identify the area with danger and likely not return, Klosowski said.
The Rapid City bear left town and was last seen in Custer State Park which is a much more suitable habitat, he said.
A category 3 bear is a bear that is traveling through the woods or area and is seen by observers, Klosowski said.
A category 1 bear is one that is aggressive and poses a more immediate threat to people and property. In the worst case scenario, the GFP would euthanize the bear, Klosowski said.
The bears sighted since 2018 have been in category 2 or 3.
“Bears doing normal bear stuff,” Klosowski said.
Don’t feed the bears
While bears are exciting they also pose challenges.
Klosowski said the GFP is sharing information about black bears, especially to those who live and work the areas where bears have been spotted.
One of the first rules is not to feed the bears.
Property owners are reminded to bring in garbage cans and to not store pet food outside, Klosowski said.
Bears “love bird feeders,” Klosowski said.
“When it’s trash day and there are 15 trash bins out, that’s like a smorgasbord,” Klosowski said.
The GFP also recommends consulting the BearWise organization at its website bearwise.org to learn more about living with black bears.
How can the GFP learn more about black bears?
The GFP has experience in trapping and tagging mountain lions, bighorn sheep and bobcats but the agency hasn’t trapped and tagged a bear, Klosowski said.
If the right opportunity is there, the GFP would like to trap and attach a tag to a black bear and collect a DNA sample. The tag and the DNA can help the GFP learn if the bear has settled in the Black Hills region and if it is related to other bears that may be tracked or found elsewhere.
The GFP does have one staff member with bear experience, he said. Also there are agencies in other states who can provide advice on trapping and tagging bears.
But since, bear sightings have been consistently at 10 to 12 per year since 2018, the GFP has been preparing for the possibility of trapping a bear to tag, Klosowski said.
The sightings in 2018 prompted the GFP to make a black bear response plan, Klosowski said.
Where do the bears come from?
Some of the bears spotted in South Dakota could come from the Bighorn Mountains of Wyoming.
Klosowski said Wyoming game agents have spotted black bears traveling across the state toward eastern Wyoming and western South Dakota.
There are bears in the Bear Lodge Mountains, in the Wyoming Black Hills.
It’s also possible the bears come from Montana and from a mountain range near Laramie, Wyoming.
It’s about 100 to 130 miles from the Laramie range to the Black Hills. “That isn’t too far for them to travel,” Klosowski said.
Not just in the Black Hills area
KELOLAND has reported on bear sightings in other parts of South Dakota.
Last May, a bear was spotted near Aberdeen. A person captured video of the roaming bear.
In 2018, a bear was also spotted near Wilmot, in eastern South Dakota.
While South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks Department District Supervisor Jamie Pekelder watch the bear who had climbed into a women’s tree near Twin Brooks, he said they stayed a safe distance away.
“It’s still a wild animal,” Pekelder said. “It realizes it’s not in bear country here.”
The bear could have come from northern Minnesota or from Canada.