‘Very unusual’: DNR warns residents to take precautions after weekend bear attack

MADISON, Wis. — Days after a couple was attacked by a bear in their Medford home, officials with the Department of Natural Resources are warning residents to be ‘bear aware.’

Bear attacks are infrequent in Wisconsin, with only nine cases since 2013 resulting in an injured human. However, close calls do happen.

“Every year we do have one or two cases where bears will enter occupied dwellings,” DNR wildlife damage specialist Brad Koele said. “I remember a case where a husband and wife were watching TV, heard a noise, and went to the kitchen and there was a bear in their refrigerator.”

The victims of last week’s attack had a much different experience. Taylor County Sheriff’s officials said the couple had noticed a bear eating from a bird feeder. They opened a window and yelled at the bear. The bear turned and charged at the house, breaking through the window and into the house. The husband and wife were injured.

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“It’s certainly very unusual for a bear to behave that aggressively,” Koele said. “Sometimes those bears might bluff charge or snap their teeth. In most cases, bears that are yelled at or confronted turn and run into the woods.”

Koele said there are multiple reasons why the bear may have attacked. It could have felt startled or it could have been defending its food source. Another reason could have been that there was a cub nearby that the bear was defending.

“Bears are just like humans,” Koele said. “Everyone’s got different behavior and responds differently.”

As the weather continues to warm, bear sightings will become more common as hibernation season is over. However, conflicts can happen at any time of year.

“Encounters like this do happen,” Koele said. “Fortunately infrequently, and folks need to take precautions to avoid these interactions.”

One of the best ways to avoid bears is by limiting the number of attractants that the animals have access to. That means putting food away and cleaning off eating spaces and grills so that you don’t leave food residue behind.

“They’re opportunistic feeders,” Koele said. “If there’s a handout or a food source they’re gonna come by and check.”

Still, as long as residents take proper steps, bears won’t bother them.

“There’s 24,000 bears in the state, a healthy population,” Koele said. “They can be anywhere throughout the state and in most cases, they’re behaving ok and not getting into trouble.”

The bear involved in last week’s attack was killed and retrieved by the DNR. Experts will examine the animal to look for general health problems like malnourishment or disease, and rabies.