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Bear traffic growing in NW Minnesota

This black bear was spotted in a family's backyard on Friday, east of Glyndon, Minn. Photo courtesy Hanna Young

GLYNDON, Minn. -- His face may be gruff -- scarred and beaten from countless scuffles -- but there's a certain smile-like quality to his haggard snout as he paws through your garbage or laps from your bird seeder.

Residents here should be aware: A black bear has been spotted sauntering about town, according to wildlife officials and a resident who saw the bear in his backyard Friday afternoon.

"Out of the corner of my eye, I saw some movement and then I saw this bear just come waltzing in there kind of slow," said Rick Young, 54, who lives in rural Glyndon. "And just out of instinct I yelled, 'Oh my God, there's a bear in the backyard.'"

Young, his wife and eldest daughter stepped onto their patio to get a better look. The bear looked up, took a few steps forward, but then walked away, Young said.

His daughter managed to snap some photos before it left the area.

"We were kind of surprised that the thing just didn't run," Young said.

This particular bear has been around town for a few days, said Phil Seefeldt, a conservation officer for the state Department of Natural Resources.

"We've had reports of several bears throughout Clay County," Seefeldt said, and also from western Becker County and Otter Tail County.

Young said he's never seen a bear in the 20 years he's lived at his home about three miles east of Glyndon, but DNR officials said bear activity in northwest Minnesota is not uncommon.

In fact, the state's black bear population is growing and many have been moving west out of forested areas and into the prairies.

"They're very quick to take advantage of whatever foods are there," said Karen Noyce, a bear research biologist for the DNR who has been tracking black bears near Thief River Falls.

Noyce said agricultural areas often draw in young male bears that break out of their normal wooded habitat to search for food.

"Some of them are brave enough to go on out into the open areas and become more used to those conditions," she said.

The bear population in the northwest has been growing for the past 15 to 20 years, she said. Numbers in the northeastern Minnesota have reached "saturation" in the past decade or so, Noyce said, so young males take it upon themselves to find new areas to live.

"In the years where the food's really poor, the young males really go out there," she said.

Seefeldt said the Glyndon bear is probably 1 or 2 years old.

Noyce said the bear, who she presumed to be a male from the photos, probably injured its nose in a sparring match with another male or in a fight with other wildlife.

Male bears over the age of 3 typically have some sort of facial scarring, she said.

DNR officials say people who come into contact with the bear should not disturb it. If you feel threatened by the bear, make loud noises and "make yourself big" in order to intimidate the animal, officials said.

"As with any wildlife, leave them alone," Seefeldt said. "Wild animals are unpredictable."

Wildlife officials said bears usually do not attack pets such as dogs or cats.

Erik Burgess is a reporter at The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead, which is owned by Forum Communications Co.