Application enlists public to help document Minnesota bear expansion

Minnesota’s black bear range has been slowly expanding southward and westward. To better understand and document this expansion, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources designed a new reporting application on its website to gather bear sightings made by the public outside the primary bear range.

Minnesota’s primary bear range covers about 40 percent of state, matching the distribution of the northern forests; however, bears also range south and west to where the forest borders farmland, and beyond. A few bears have been seen near the North Dakota and Iowa borders, and sightings are increasingly reported in the Twin Cities metro suburbs.

“Nearly all of these far-roaming bears are presumed to be wandering male bears, but one purpose of gathering sightings on the website is to find out how far from the primary range the females have expanded,” said Dave Garshelis, DNR bear project leader. “The reporting tool enables sightings of bears with cubs to be logged.”

The new web application also allows citizen recorders to record whether bears are feeding on natural foods, or non-natural foods like birdfeeders or crops. But the purpose is not to register a complaint about a nuisance bear. That should be done through a local wildlife manager.

Find office locations at or contact the DNR Information Center at 888-646-6367.

The only sightings being recorded with the new tool are those outside the primary range. A map is provided on the website to distinguish this area.

If a bear is seen outside the primary range, the observer can zoom into the map provided and mark the location. There is no need to enter an address or legal description. All information about the identity of people registering a sighting is considered private data and will only be used by DNR staff when it is necessary to verify an unusual sighting.

“Hunters have long contributed information about bears to assist our management program,” Garshelis said. “This is the first time we’re asking all of the ‘citizen scientists’ in the public to help.”

The reporting app will be disabled for several weeks each year prior to and during hunting seasons.

The DNR bear sightings tool runs on Android, iOS and Windows. The web application can be found at