In a bear-free state, Iowa officials issue bear safety tips

DUBUQUE, Iowa (AP) — Iowa has virtually no bears, but one continues to appear in Dubuque and has led state and city officials to advise residents to be on their guard. in the event of an encounter with black bears.

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources and the City of Dubuque issued a ‘bear aware’ statement this week following a number of sightings since early May of a black bear in the northeast portion from the city. Suggestions include tidying up food sources, such as bird feeders, pet food and garbage cans, and a warning for residents who encounter a bear not to run, but to slowly back away.

Black bears are native to Iowa, but it has been over 100 years since the state had a resident bear population. There have been only a few bear sightings per year in Iowa for the past 20 years, according to Iowa DNR wildlife biologist Curt Kemmerer. Bears in Iowa typically migrate from states like Minnesota and Wisconsin, which have between 15,000 and 30,000 black bears, to Missouri, which has around 1,000 breeding bears in the wild.

“We don’t know for sure how many bears are in Iowa at any given time, but that number is very, very small — maybe three to five bears,” Kemmerer said.

That number in Iowa could increase along the Mississippi River, where there is still habitat that can support the animals, said wetland wildlife research biologist Vince Evelsize.

“In the next three to five years, I think we can expect to see cubs appear and a small breeding population become established,” Evelsize said.