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Hastings resident encounters bear in his back yard

It was about 9:45 p.m. Saturday when Rolland Shoen, his wife and his daughter had their evening interrupted by an unexpected visitor. They were sitting inside their house, located about one mile outside the city limits along Ravenna Trail, and only two miles away from business developments along 10th Street.

The family dog started barking - a more stressful bark than they were used to hearing - and kept barking at something in the trees behind the house. After a minute or two, Shoen went to see what was agitating the dog, and when he looked out into the woods, he saw a large black bear exploring less than 15 feet away from the edge of their deck.

"I was a little shocked," Shoen said.

He had seen several bears at his home near the Lake of the Woods, where his nearest neighbor lived two miles away, but he had never seen one come so close to a city in this area before, he said.

He called to his wife and daughter that it was a bear the dog was barking at, and at first, they didn't believe him. Shoen went back into the house to get a spotlight, and the family all went out onto the deck to watch it. This one was big, Shoen said. The only time he's seen a larger bear was up north, where he came across a 400-pound bear. This one was just as tall, Shoen said, but not filled out, since it had just come out of hibernation.

"You could tell he had lost all his fat," he said.

They watched it for a few more minutes before the bear made its way, unconcerned, up the hill behind the house and out of sight.

It may seem odd to get so close to a bear, but Shoen and his family are no strangers to the animals.

"I've been around wildlife like this before," he said.

Besides interacting with them in the north woods, Shoen has gotten experience with the animals through his oldest son, who works in Alaska leading people on bear sighting expeditions. Shoen knows what signs indicate a bear is agitated, and this bear was making none of them. The family's presence and even the barking dog didn't bother it in the least, Shoen said.

At one point, the dog ran toward the bear, trying to scare it off. Normally, such behavior would be effective, but not this time.

"It didn't run, it wasn't afraid," Shoen said.

Seeing that the bear wasn't going to run away like those he chased by Lake of the Woods, the dog backed off.

After they saw the bear, Shoen reported it to the sheriff's department. A few deputies came to the house and shined spotlights into the woods, but didn't get to see it. They also passed the report on to the Department of Natural Resources.

"We regularly get calls like this, especially in the north metro," said Bryan Lueth, the north metro area wildlife manager for the Minnesota DNR.

Now is about the time they start getting calls about bears, Lueth explained, since bears are just coming out of hibernation and looking for food to build up their fat stores again.

"They learn to exploit human sources, especially bird seed," Lueth said.

Sightings are common around neighborhoods in the north metro, but become more rare the farther south one goes.

"I don't often hear of bears that far south," Lueth said.

Just two months ago, Shoen recalled he told his family that he wouldn't be surprised to see a bear in the woods behind their house.

"There's a lot of places for a bear to hide," he explained.

Behind the house is a long stretch of woods and a couple deep ravines where a bear could easily hide. He supposed that the bear had wintered in one of the ravines and was out searching for food.

The Shoens had just used their grill the night before, and there was an empty pizza box in a recycling bin outside. Shoen suspects it was theose two scents that attracted the bear.

Those are two things Lueth mentioned could attract bears close to a home. Other things that a bear would be interested in are bird feeders or seed left on the ground and pet food left outside. Residents can avoid problems before they happen by cleaning these things up at night. More information is available on the DNRs website, www.dnr.state.

Shoen and his family aren't the only ones to have seen a bear in the area. At least a few others in that area had told him they also saw one, or the markings of one. It's a matter of concern for some, especially those who have small children, Shoen said. He himself isn't too worried, but he did say that he's told his daughter that she and her friends need to take the dog with them every time they walk back into the woods.

The biggest thing to keep in mind, should anyone encounter a bear, is making your presence known.

"Make sure the bear knows you're there," Lueth said.

Most incidents he's heard of, he said, happened because a bear was surprised. Always leave the bear an escape route, as a cornered bear will defend itself. Local law enforcement can also respond to a bear sighting, Lueth said.