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DNR Develops Online App To Track Bear Sightings

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- If you happen to see a black bear this spring, you have a chance to help the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

Earlier this month, the DNR developed an online tool that allows people who see bears to record their findings. It's located on the DNR's bear page.

"I was just trying to figure out what could possibly make a big track like that," said Scott Wardell.

At the Montgomery Orchard, it's out with the old and in with the new. Wardell is watching his apple trees bloom while he throws out last year's crop. And it's the old apples that likely caught the attention of an unlikely guest. A large paw print was the giveaway.

"People come for the hikes and the hay rides. And they do all this stuff in the hopes of seeing a deer or a pheasant or maybe they are lucky and see a coyote, but a bear?! That's exciting," said Wardell.

It's exciting for the DNR, too. A bear sighting in Le Sueur County is extremely rare, but part of a growing trend.

And if you see a bear, the DNR wants to know all about it. They have a new tool on their website. And when you click on it, it'll ask you questions like where was the bear located? What was the bear doing? If it was eating, what was it eating? Did it have cubs?

Since they launched the app, nearly 200 people have reported seeing bears in Minnesota. But what's surprising is where they are seeing them. The map shows that black bears have been spotted as far south as Fillmore County on the Iowa border.

"This job has been a blast and it's been fun watching everyone report them, from Kittson County all the way down to Mower and Fillmore County," said Andy Tri, a wildlife research biologist with the DNR.

The DNR believes black bears have actually been expanding south and west since the 1980s. And Wardell is perfectly okay with them breaking barriers.

"That adds an element of excitement to the adventure," said Wardell.

With the public's help, the DNR hopes that the new mapping strategy gives them a better understanding of what bears are eating and where they are raising their cubs.

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