Black Bear Visits Downtown Duluth, Draws a Crowd of Spectators
While Duluth is situated in the rugged northwoods of Northern Minnesota, seeing a larger wild animal other than a deer in town is still an attention-getting spectacle for most. Word spread of this morning's bear sighting in Downtown Duluth on social media, bringing a gathering of onlookers of up to 20 people at a time snapping photos of the bear.
In recent memory, we've seen a moose in Lester Park and, a bear crashing a wedding at Glensheen, and another bear in front of City Hall. These are only the publicized incidents of sightings of various wildlife (beside the run-of-the-mill squirrels and deer) like fox, raccoon, and, of course, bears.
In the case of many of these sightings, some onlookers today put their safety at risk in the interest of a compelling selfie or photo; standing very near, or even underneath the tree the bear was in. This is an incredibly bad idea for a couple of reasons.
First, in the 20 minutes that I was on the scene (capturing photos and video from a safe distance), the bear acted spooked and began to move as though it wanted to come out of the tree on a handful of instances. Bears, like most other wildlife, would rather stay away from humans. The presence of humans near the base of the tree was obviously distressing the animal, and likely played a role in the bear staying in the tree longer than planned.
Second, it's a bear! Bears are wild animals that can (and do) inflict harm on humans if they feel threatened. As I mentioned before, wild animals would generally rather avoid people than attack, but when they feel threatened, they will do what they need to do to protect themselves. While bears look like big, slow, cuddly creatures, they are deceptively fast, and can climb up and down trees much faster than you'd think. The average black bear can run up to 35 mph, which is faster than any human.
Seeing folks today sneaking under the tree to snap a selfie with the bear in the background reminded me of stories out of Yellowstone National Park of people getting gored trying to grab a selfie with a bison. It's just a really bad idea. Wildlife in the wild (or even in a city setting) aren't like creatures in a zoo. There isn't something between you and the animal.
In the case of today's bear sighting and other wildlife sightings around the area recently, it's important to remember that yes we do live in the northwoods, and you might see some wildlife. It's ok to be curious and even snap a photo or video, but do it from a safe distance. How far is safe? Park officials with the National Park Service recommend a minimum of 100 yards for animals like bears and wolves, and 25 yards for hoofed animals for Yellowstone. These same guidelines seem reasonable to apply to our area as well.