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Bear with cubs charges Brainerd man

Garrett DeWitt was walking his dogs near the 1900 block of Graydon Avenue in south Brainerd shortly after 10 p.m. when a bear charged at him and knocked him over, then ran away. Brainerddispatch.com

A Brainerd man escaped a violent encounter with a bear Tuesday night with minor injuries.

Garrett DeWitt was walking his dogs near the 1900 block of Graydon Avenue in south Brainerd shortly after 10 p.m. when a bear charged at him and knocked him over, then ran away.

Officers searched the area but were unable to find the bear, a Brainerd Police Department release said.

Janice Johnson and her husband Steve were at their home when they heard shouting outside, Janice recalled Wednesday. A man approached their front door with two dogs, who they eventually realized was Dewitt, a family friend and neighbor.

"He said, 'I got hit by a bear,'" Johnson said. "He had some scraped knees, and his shirt was a little bloody."

Then Johnson saw the bear across the street, quickly followed by two cubs who climbed down a birch tree in the Johnsons' front yard. The cubs' mother had likely been after the Johnsons' sunflower seed birdfeeder when it made eye contact with Dewitt and charged, Johnson said. After the altercation with Dewitt, the bears went toward the Mississippi River, about half mile from the Johnson home.

Johnson said although she and her husband have lived in the area for 20 years and have heard instances of bear sightings, they've never heard of a local attack before.

"We've never had a bear vs. man encounter," she said.

DeWitt is grandmaster of the DeWitt Martial Arts school in Brainerd.

"I kind of joked with him ... 'Your Tae Kwon Do didn't scare that bear off, did it?'" Johnson said. "(The bear) was not impressed that he knew martial arts."

DeWitt was resting and unavailable for comment Wednesday.

What to do when you spot a bear

"For distant bears, keep out of sight and detour as far as possible behind and downwind of the bear," a Brainerd Police Department release said. "If the bear sees you, retreat slowly and leave the area. Regardless of the distance, never approach the bear. For surprise encounters, if the bear clacks its teeth, sticks out its lips, huffs, woofs, or slaps the ground with its paws, it is warning you that you are too close. Slowly back away."

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"If the bear clacks its teeth, sticks out its lips, huffs, woofs, or slaps the ground with its paws, it is warning you that you are too close. Slowly back away." - Brainerd Police Department release

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Brainerd Police Chief Corky McQuiston said he was not aware of anyone else having ever been attacked by a bear in Brainerd. Neither was he aware of any instance during the past 20 years in which Brainerd police have shot a bear, although the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources has occasionally trapped nuisance bears and removed them from town.

According to the DNR, black bears are the only bear species in Minnesota and their mating season extends from May to July. They grow from 5 to 6 feet long, and adult bears range from 150 to 300 pounds. Approximately 20,000 of them live in Minnesota, mostly in the northern third of the state.

"Black bears usually try to avoid people, but sometimes come in conflict with humans when they eat crops, destroy apiaries, or break into garbage cans and birdfeeders," the DNR's webpage said.

Black bears' natural diet changes based on the season: they eat vegetation in the spring, ants around June, various kinds of berries in summer, and nuts during fall.

DNR tips to reduce bear problems on your property:

• Reduce garbage odors. Rinse food cans and wrappers before disposal.

• Compost vegetable scraps.

• Keep meat scraps in your freezer until garbage pickup day.

• Wash garbage cans regularly and use lime to cut odors.

• Keep garbage cans in a bear-proof container or in a garage until the morning of pickup.

• Remove bird feeders in the spring. If you persist in feeding birds during the summer, remove seed, suet, and hummingbird feeders at night.

• Keep pet food inside.

• Keep barbecue grills and picnic tables clean.

• Use an energized fence to keep bears out of beehives, sweet corn, fruit trees and berry patches. Barking dogs, bright lights and noisemakers will sometimes discourage bears from coming into an area.

ZACH KAYSER may be reached at 218-855-5860 or Zach.Kayser@brainerddispatch.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/ZWKayser.

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