I already have to worry that one group of Bears are going to disappoint or hurt me on a year-to-year basis, but I suppose I should be fearing the literal animal after news from the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (Iowa DNR) last week.

According to the Iowa DNR, there's a significant chance that, over the course of the next several weeks, Northeast Iowa could be visited by wandering black bears coming from Minnesota and Wisconsin ahead of the breeding season. While Iowa's habitat doesn't necessarily support a black bear population, certain parts of the state do. They are native to Iowa, but according to the department, Iowa has been without a resident bear population for over 100 years.

Photo Credit: Lynn_Bystrom, Digital Team
Photo Credit: Lynn_Bystrom, Digital Team

How Iowa is Different from Other Midwestern States:

In the Iowa code, black bears are not listed as a species of wildlife found in the state because they were not present when the laws were created. With that in mind, the Iowa DNR does not have legal authority to manage black bear populations by such measures as designating protection status or adding a limited hunting season if the population grows.

Here's a fun trivia fact: Iowa is the only state in the Midwest where the state wildlife agency does not have regulatory authority to manage bear populations:

Since 2002, there have been 49 confirmed black bears in Iowa, and two to five per year since 2014. As bears have become more of a regular visitor, the chance to encounter a bear, although small, is a possibility.

The Black Bear Population Could Grow Soon:

Vince Evelsizer, furbearer and wetland wildlife research biologist with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, stated the population could see growth in the state within the next several years, per an Iowa DNR press release:

Within the next three to five years, we may see cubs show up and a small breeding population become established. If that occurs, we should look to our neighbors in Wisconsin and Minnesota who have learned to live with bears. It won’t be perfect and there will be bumps along the way, but we need to start having conversations about the idea of bears coming back to Iowa, at least in certain places along the Mississippi River and Northeast Iowa where suitable habitat exists.

Photo Credit: CoyStClair, Danbury
Photo Credit: CoyStClair, Danbury

Black Bears in Dubuque County?:

Since 2002, there have been 43 black bear sightings in Iowa, mostly in Northeast Iowa along the Mississippi River. Other counties, such as Winneshiek and Allamakee Counties, are the most suitable habitats to support black bears. Meanwhile, in 2020, two black bears were spotted in Dubuque County.

Black bear behavior is somewhat unpredictable, according to Evelsizer:

Black bears have some general tendencies and habits, but individual bears may go against the norm. Some are shy, others are not. They are typically secretive and want to be left alone – while others are bold and may be more daylight active."

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What to Do if You See a Black Bear:

Evelsizer added that if you do encounter a bear, don't run away. Back away slowly and cautiously, or make noise so they know you're present.

Read more about Iowa's potential for a growing population of black bears on the Iowa DNR's website.


Photos: A Trip Through Wild Cat Den State Park

My Families 3.3 Mile Hike Through Wild Cat Den State Park Outside of Muscatine, Iowa.

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