Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

No lions or tigers, but bears, oh, my May 26, 2023

A fox climbs the wooded hillside behind our garage in January 2018. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo January 2018)

YEARS AGO, A VARIETY OF WILDLIFE frequented the wooded hillside behind our garage and spilled over into our and our next-door neighbors’ yards. Raccoons, woodchucks, opossums, skunks, even a fox once, and evidence of deer in tracks left behind. Such sightings were not unusual, even though we live in the heart of Faribault along an arterial street. But the Straight River runs only a few blocks away and our property edges Wapacuta Park atop the hill. Both make for inviting wildlife habitat. That doesn’t explain, though, why we no longer see an assortment of animals.

Deer in their natural habitat at River Bend Nature Center in Faribault. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo 2022)

Now only squirrels and rabbits scamper through the woods and yard, along with voles and the mice I never see but which occasionally find a route into the basement of our aged house. (Within the past week, though, I’ve found two dead mice in our backyard. What’s with that?) Feral cats sometimes wander our corner lot, too. I expect other animals may roam my neighborhood in the cover of dark. I’ve heard coyotes howling while attending an evening concert at River Bend Nature Center in Faribault and while visiting friends just outside of town.

The only bears I’ve seen in southern Minnesota are dead ones, including this one for sale at a seasonal sale in rural Medford several years back. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

One wild animal I haven’t seen yet is a black bear. Typically, they don’t venture this far south from their northern Minnesota habitat. But that has changed in recent years. In late April, bear sightings were reported twice in my county of Rice. The first report came at 2:30 pm on April 26 and the second on April 28 at 9:33 pm, according to a bear sighting map published by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. Around that time Northfield police issued an alert about a bear and warned residents to keep their trash and bird feeders inside. I haven’t heard anything official about that bear since then.

Earlier, a bear and three cubs were spotted in Steele County, the county just to the south of Rice. That was at 2:12 am on March 7. A solo bear doesn’t seem nearly as frightening as a mama with babies. Just like human moms, the instinct is strong to protect one’s young.

As I studied the DNR bear reporting map, I was surprised to see so many sightings in the Twin Cities area, primarily in the north metro. Admittedly a higher density population may lead to more reports. Still. Olmsted, Mower and Winona counties to the southeast of Rice County also had numerous bear sightings. Winona County, especially, with many wooded areas and along the Mississippi River, seems a place where bears would feel right at home.

Up North at the cabin, surrounded by woods and water, a natural environment for bears. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo July 2021)

When we stay at an extended family member’s lake cabin in the Brainerd lakes area of central Minnesota during the summer, we are bear aware. No leaving garbage outside, no doing anything that will draw bears in from the surrounding woods. We understand we are in their habitat.

But here in southern Minnesota, primarily among corn and soybean fields, I don’t expect bears. Yet, I suppose they didn’t expect humans to wander into their homeland either, among the lakes and forests of central and northern Minnesota.

TELL ME: What wild animals have you spotted in and around your home? I’d like to hear, whether you live in Rice County or elsewhere.

CLICK HERE to see photos of a bear that wandered onto an Up North Minnesota blogger’s porch recently.

© Copyright 2023 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


8 Responses to “No lions or tigers, but bears, oh, my”

  1. We get coyotes on our point when the lake is frozen. Right in the middle of town. We’ve seen footprints right under our house windows. Occasionally hear them howling- so weird in town!

  2. Living in urban land is amazing what calls it home besides the humans. We have coyotes, every once in a while a young bear roams through looking for new territory (had this happen a few years back – have one roaming the Tampa area right now), possums, raccoons, otters, gators, turtles, tortoises, all types of bird life, etc. I am talking concrete land with a mix of green spaces including lakes and marshes – it is a very diverse landscape for sure. Happy Day – Happy Weekend – Enjoy 🙂

  3. Valerie Says:

    We saw a fawn lying down in our front yard one year…other than that…squirrels! 😉

  4. Rose Says:

    It’s sad to see how habitat and wildlife are disappearing. When I feel this way, I think back to something I read in one of my Little House on the Prairie books, where Laura describes how Pa was frustrated with the ‘traffic’ by their land, 2? wagons went by in 3? months (not sure of the exact number of wagons or time frame?). I could only dream of such little traffic. I feel heartbroken to see so much clear cutting of forest for new subdivisions. I feel sad for wildlife, as their habitat shrinks and they find themselves hiding out in our backyard, afraid of all the barking dogs. Where will they go from here? Thank-you for mentioning not to leave trash or birdfeeders out if bears are around. We have never left our trash outside, but lots of folks do, seemingly unaware who they’re inviting into their neighborhood.

    • Sometimes (too often really) we humans don’t consider the impact on wildlife as we move into their territory. It sounds like you’re being careful not to draw bears onto your property. When we walk at Mission Park south of Crosslake (while staying at a family member’s lake cabin), I have thought about what I would do if we encountered a bear, especially after being told they were in the neighborhood.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.