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.
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.
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.
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