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Woster: How do bears get to the Hills in South Dakota anyway?

“Residents are urged to be cautious and give the bear some space,’’ the post continued. “They predict it will move on.’’

Terry Woster
Terry Woster
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I am my mother’s son in many ways, probably none more so than my tendency to imagine wild creatures in every dark shadow.

As I scrolled through a social media site the other day, I landed on an attention-grabbing photograph of a bear. The creature’s head and upper body were visible through some foliage, and the dark eyes stared directly into the camera lens. The photo credit was to the Custer County Sheriff’s Office, so I was pretty sure it was no hoax.

I’m no expert on bears. Most of what I do know. I learned by taking my kids through Bear Country out in the Black Hills or by standing near the grizzly bear enclosure at the Great Plains Zoo in Sioux Falls. My younger son, who lived in the Denver area, has seen bears during mountain hikes. And he has sent me door-camera images of bears nosing around the front of his cabin in the Rocky Mountains. Other than those experiences, what I know about bears I learned in that mid-1960s Clint Walker film, “The Night of the Grizzly.’’ Things got pretty intense for old Clint.

My younger brother, Kevin, has made the outdoors a big part of his continuing adult education. He’s the first person who told me that bears occasionally wander into the Black Hills, although my mom was afraid it was true long before Kevin came along.

A photo of an actual black bear, then, somewhere in the Custer area of the southern Hills should be no surprise. The Custer County Sheriff’s Office, according to the social media post I saw, said after reports of a bear in the area, officers went out to confirm the sightings and snapped the pictures.

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The post went on to say that after taking the pictures, the officials left the area. To me, that is the only sensible thing to do, although I wouldn’t have bothered with photos before I left the area.

“Residents are urged to be cautious and give the bear some space,’’ the post continued. “They predict it will move on.’’

So, black bears do, from time to time at a whim, move into the Black Hills area. Like vacation travelers, or participants in the annual Tesla electric vehicle “Sound of Silence’’ rally, also in Custer, they show up, hang out a while and then hit the road for other places. I don’t know where the bears come from. I guess I don’t know where the Teslas come from, either, but I’ve seen pictures of both species now.

When I was a kid, the family took a vacation nearly every summer after we had the wheat safely in the bin. Most years, we went only as far as the Black Hills. We stayed in cabins, visited tourist attractions and paused at highway turnouts to climb hills and splash in streams.

My mom loved the Black Hills. She worried, though, when we waded in the fast-moving creeks or crawled among the pine trees on the steep, rocky hills. Mostly she worried about cuts and bruises, but she could work up a good fret over mountain lions or bears lurking in the deep shadows of the trees. Had she seen the photograph of the Custer bear, she’d have never let any of her five kids out of the car again.

I grew up the same way. I imagined cougars or bears behind the barn and in the tree belt on the farm. On vacations, when the family stopped to climb or splash, I hung near the car. Perhaps I read too many fairy tales.

Even as an adult, I often sense “something is out there’’ at night, even in the middle of town. I sense wild things close by when I take out the trash. In Pierre, when I rode my bike on the trails, I sometimes “felt’’ a lion hiding in the trees along the path. The hairs on the back of my neck have gotten a good workout over my lifetime.

Before I go to the Hills again, I’m going to research how long it takes the average black bear to wander through an area. That’s information a person should know.

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