Smokey is a Bandit

Bears are cute.

How can you not love a hapless pair named Yogi and BooBoo? Who doesn’t smile at one of those wood carvings where the bear charmingly extends a welcome sign? And what child of the sixties didn’t imagine herself boating around the Everglades with a six-foot black bear as a sidekick?

Oh, they’re cute alright. Until they decide to use your garbage cans as a pantry.

Bears are nothing new to lake life in the Northwoods; they have been spotted in our area before. But this year, the bear went from theoretical possibility to existential threat.

It was Memorial Day weekend. We had finished the mowing so it was time to head over to the Pinehurst for dinner. As we were pulling out of the property, I looked over at my neighbors’ garden—the only thing between us and the deep woods—and there, with at least two more hours of daylight to go, our neighborhood bear was rooting around in the dirt:

Smokey is about 50 yards from our property.

Smokey is about 50 yards from our property.

Our neighbor hadn’t planted her garden yet, but she did compost fruits and vegetables out there. He was rooting around the compost pile, just being a bear in spring.

This new visitor explained the bags of garbage that we found during the annual ditch clean up a few weeks earlier. Full bags of garbage, seemingly too big for a raccoon, had been dragged into the woods and ripped apart. The bags were in locations where humans wouldn’t have dragged or tossed them just to avoid a trip to the dump.

Our first line of defense was to make sure that the garbage can lids were secured with bungee cords. But when a long-time return guest left in late June, she said, “Yeah, your garbage can bungees aren’t exactly doing the trick with the bear.” In fact, in the short hour between when they left and Lois, our intrepid house cleaner, arrived to clean, the bear had made quick work of two cans of garbage: debris was all over the yard.

Lois cleaned it up and went inside for the real cleaning. As she was cleaning the master bedroom, she saw the bear back at the garbage cans. She was not in the mood to pick up the garbage a second time, so she marched outside, and with the full might of her five-foot-two frame, she ran at the bear with a hearty holler. The bear quickly retreated.

Lois went back to cleaning. And Smokey went back to the garbage cans. Now it was personal. Lois called her husband, who enlisted a buddy. The two men came over on four-wheelers and chased the bear deeper into the woods.

The humans may have won the day, but Smokey was in it for the long haul. We moved our cans into the tool shed, so the bear just worked his way further down the row of cabins. He got into empty cans, dinged up a set of metal cans, and eventually made his way onto the County Road, where he helped himself to a full dumpster.

Over the summer, calls poured in to the authorities, complaining of a nuisance bear. The State of Minnesota had little interest in addressing the issue, but the Tribal DNR took action. They have a set of live traps that can handle a 400-pound bear. The Tribe also has a bear hunting season that starts in August. By the time we returned to the lake in mid-August, we were told that the bear problem had been handled. The particulars of Smokey’s fate are a little vague, depending on who you ask, and frankly, I don’t care to know.