BIG RAPIDS — A Department of Natural Resources wildlife research specialist confirms that the bear population locally appears to be increasing.

Dwayne R. Etter of East Lansing said the goal of the DNR is to radio collar bears and find out how bears are using the landscape south of U.S. 10 as it is different that more traditional bear range farther north.

“This information will then be used to refine management of bears in southern Michigan,” Etter noted.

In Mecosta, Montcalm and Osceola counties, “bear density is low compared to more traditional bear habitat to the north,” he said. ”Early indications of the study are that wooded habitat is very important for bears.  All of the counties have at least some agricultural lands mixed with woods. Osceola likely has the highest bear density of the three.”

Etter indicated that people spotting these bears are taking the proper procedures as listed by the DNR for reporting.

“Because bears are not very common in these areas, people typically contact the DNR office and report the sighting,” he said. “When people have problems with bears (ie, getting into garbage or bird feeders) we communicate how to avoid these conflicts as well as inform them that bears are becoming more common in the area which will require people to change some of their habits to avoid additional conflicts.”

The area doesn’t have a lot of bears, but just enough to take note, Etter indicated.

“It appears that the population in this area is growing,” he said.

“Whether it continues to grow likely has more to do with how well people will tolerate bears as opposed to if bears can adapt to different habitat. From our perspective, we’d like to be more effective at educating people in these areas about bears and how to live with them just like people do farther north.”