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Black Bears

Bears have been in the news recently. A black bear, or perhaps more than one, has been observed in the Turtle Mountains. A video recording of one episode even ran on one of the region’s television stations.

Black bears in the region are not particularly unusual. They are periodically observed in the Turtle Mountains and other areas of North Dakota, particularly along the northeastern part of the state and the Red River Valley. Most of these bears are thought to have wandered into the state from adjacent Minnesota or Manitoba.

Art Bailey in his A Biological Survey of North Dakota from 1926 noted that black bear historically ranged all across North Dakota. They were probably most abundant in the Red River Valley, and also abundant in the Turtle Mountains, Pembina Hills, and along the wooded streams in the eastern part of the state.

Bailey quotes Alexander Henry’s journal from near the mouth of the Park River in 1800. “Bears make prodigious ravages in the brush and willows; the plum trees are torn to pieces, and every tree that bears fruit has shared the same fate; the tops of the oaks are also very roughly handled, broken, and torn down to get the acorns. The havoc they commit is astonishing; their dung lies about in the woods is plentiful as that of the buffalo in the meadow.”

Bailey also sites that Henry took in 906 skins over an eight-year period (likely 1800-1808), with locations in the Red River, Park River, near Grand Forks, Hair Hills (Pembina Hills), and along the Turtle River and elsewhere. Bailey also noted that in the early 1900’s bears were reported in the Turtle Mountain and Pembina Hills, Red River Valley, near Grafton, Drayton, and the Devils Lake area. By the time of his writing, (1926) there were still a few in the Turtle Mountains, Pembina Hills, and Red River Valley.

It is safe to say there will be more bear sightings in the future. As for a resident population, well, time will tell.

~Chuck Lura

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