In Bear-Barren State, Iowa Officials Issue Bear Safety Tips

DUBUQUE, Iowa (AP) — Iowa has hardly any bears, but one keeps popping up in Dubuque and has led state and city officials to advise residents to be on guard for black bear encounters.

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources and the city of Dubuque issued a “bear aware” release this week following a number of sightings since early May of a black bear in the northeastern part of the city. The suggestions including stowing away food sources, such as bird feeders, pet food and garbage cans, and a warning for residents who encounter a bear not to run, but back away slowly.

Black bears are native to Iowa, but it’s been more than 100 years since the state has had a resident bear population. There have been only a few bear sightings annually in Iowa over the last 20 years, according to Iowa DNR wildlife biologist Curt Kemmerer. Bears in Iowa typically are migrating from states like Minnesota and Wisconsin, which have between 15,000 and 30,000 black bears, to Missouri, which has about 1,000 breeding bears in the wild.

“We do not know for sure how many bears are in Iowa at any given point in time, but that number is very, very small — perhaps three to five bears,” Kemmerer said.

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

“Within the next three to five years, I think we can expect to see cubs show up and a small breeding population become established," Evelsize said.