In our own Backyard: Life with bears is like family drama
By: Wendy Johnson, Pine Journal
In our own backyard…
Some things simply “bear” repeating, and such is the story of Glenn and Nancy Krause of Cloquet.
Several years ago, I interviewed the two of them about the black bears who regularly visit the yard of their cabin in rural Ely each summer. As part of Dr. Lynn Rogers’ famous bear research study, the Krauses have fed, collared and recorded generations of bears who come in to feed in their yard. The bears, in return, have demonstrated a certain sense of loyalty in coming back each spring with their young.
In fact, in late winter the Krauses go out into the woods to discover where “their” bears have denned up for the winter, often finding out how many cubs they have given birth to in the meantime.
While Glenn does much of the field work, seeking out the dens and tracking the bears through means of remote telemetry, it is Nancy who puts radio collars on them when they are old enough and records each visit to the feeding station. It’s a pleasant pattern in the Krauses’ lives – and in the bears’ lives as well – and has remained a focus of theirs for many seasons now.
Each spring, the Krauses have invited Ken and me to come up to Ely and see the bears, but we haven’t quite made it there – until now. Our plan was to drive up to Ely last Friday and stop by their house shortly after lunch in the hope that some of the bears would make a midday appearance. We were not disappointed....
Ken and I arrived at the Krauses’ cabin around 12:30 p.m. It was a beautiful day, and Nancy’s historic family homestead, settled by her early Swedish ancestors, was bathed in sunlight amidst the giant pines that surround it. We sat out on their sun porch for some time, visiting and hoping the bears would make a timely arrival.
Nancy made coffee and we moved into the kitchen for some of her homemade cherry dessert. We were almost finished when Ken glanced out the window and cried, “LOOK!”
And, there, just outside the window, was a mother bear and her three cubs!
The mother bear was one they had named Colleen, and her triplets at first milled around her until she gave them an invisible signal to head over to the base of a nearby white pine in case they had to head for cover if danger were to come their way.
As Colleen lustily availed herself of the heap of sunflower seeds and mixed nuts, I snapped a steady stream of photos of the little family as the cubs climbed up and down the white pine, tumbling around on the ground and comically peeking out from around the giant trunk. The mother bear kept a wary eye on the horizon but continued to eat.
After many minutes, we went back inside to continue to observe the bears from the kitchen. Glenn then explained how the mother bear would eventually meander out of the yard, commanding her cubs to follow after her with a throaty call that sounded something like, “Glunk!” And sure enough, Colleen headed to the corner of the yard and called to them. Two of them obeyed, but the third scampered around defiantly – until the mother bear ambled up to it and nipped it on the shoulder.
The Krauses then told us of one of the other female bears, affectionately dubbed “Cookie,” who had come to their yard with her cub last year – only to take off on her own, abandoning the cub in one of the nearby trees. Since the cub was already weaned, it suffered no real ill effects, but when Cookie reappeared later in the season, it was with a young male bear! We were struck by how the bears’ behavior mimicks that of humans in so many ways….
After a subsequent visit to Ely’s International Bear Center, where the Krauses are active volunteers, Ken and I enjoyed the rest of our weekend up the famous Echo Trail, but little equalled the thrill of seeing the bears.
On Sunday, as we headed back toward Ely, we excitedly spotted a young black bear lumbering alongside the road. As she disappeared into the woods, we noted she was wearing a radio collar.
We later reported the siting to the Krauses, and Glenn informed us that particular section of the Echo Trail was the home turf of none other than Cookie – the “wanton hussy” who abandoned her cub for a handsome stranger!