TWO HARBORS, Minn. — There's a time-honored saying that maintains there's a first time for everything, and a recent incident that unfolded in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCA) suggests it might be true.
Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) conservation officer Mary Manning and U.S. Forest Service conservation officer Ed Belmore were working together on a detail recently when they were informed of a report of an armed bear on the loose in the BWCA.
A camper told a U.S. Forest Service representative that the bear stole his backpack, with a handgun and several delicious-smelling snacks inside, from a portage landing and ran off into the woods.
Manning says they normally would not have responded to an incident with a bear and a missing pack, but the involvement of a firearm made the situation a bit more urgent. She and Belmore dropped a canoe in at Clearwater Lake and paddled to the portage where the pack was pilfered.
They searched one area, and after considering the circling behavior of bears moved on to another site, where they found the shredded pack behind a pile of logs. Manning said the bright blue color of the pack helped them locate it.
Nearby was a bunch of empty snack wrappers, and still inside the pack... the missing handgun in its case. "It definitely smelled of food," Manning recalled.
The bear remains on the loose.
Manning says it has been a bad season for bears in the BWCA, as two consecutive years of drought have impacted the natural food supply. She advises people who are visiting the area to:
- Keep someone on watch near gear, especially food packs, if making multiple trips across a portage.
- Consolidate food to one or two packs, and keep those close at all times.
- Ziploc bags or double bagging can limit food smells, which attract bears and other wildlife.
- Maintain a clean camp - dirty dishes and garbage are a magnet for bears.
She adds that bear spray is a much better option than a firearm, as it's lighter, less expensive, and less dangerous if it gets in the wrong hands.
In a weekly report, the Minnesota DNR called the armed bear incident a first for both their agency and the U.S. Forest Service.