On the Fourth of July weekend Michelle and I decided to go on a short road trip since we had and extra day off. We decided to head north up the the Vince Shute Wildlife Sanctuary near Orr, MN. I wanted to go up on the fourth, which was a Friday, unfortunately the only hotel in Orr was all booked up for that night. So we went up on Saturday instead. We left Saturday morning and headed to Duluth, MN first. In Duluth there was not much time for me to do any birding. Michelle wanted to stop at the zoo, since we had not visited it in a few years, and then we ate lunch at our favorite restaurant in Duluth, Black Woods, by the time we had finished all of that, plus the couple of hours it took to drive to Duluth, it was time to head out to Orr so that we would get there early enough to get some pics before we lost the sun. We arrived at the sanctuary shortly before 5:00pm, which is when it opens, and there was already a line up of cars waiting. Fortunately it did not take us to long to get parked, into a bus and on our way down to the sanctuary.
The Vince Shute Wildlife Sanctuary is the home base for the American Bear Association. During the summer it is also a rest stop and feeding grounds for numerous black bears. The Sanctuary began as a logging camp back in the 1940s. Vince Shute, and his loggers, would frequently have problems with bears breaking into their buildings looking for food. Like most people who lived in the north woods they resolved the problem by shooting the bears but this did not sit well with Vince. In the early 1950s, after a decade of killing, Vince decided to try something different. He knew that the bears were breaking in because they were hungry, and not out of malice, so he decided to start putting food for the bears out in a meadow away from his camp. His idea worked, the bears began to eat the free food and quit breaking into the camps buildings. At first this was just a means for the loggers to coexist with the bears but as time went on Vince fell in love with the bears who visited each summer.
Even after he retired from the logging business Vince continued to feed his bears until 1993. At 80 years old the bear man, as he was often referred to by the locals, was worried what would happen to his friends when he was gone, so he approached some human friends, who shared his love of the bears, and in 1995 they started the American Bear Association. Vince donated his land to the association and it was transformed into the Vince Shute Wildlife Sanctuary.
In 2000 Vince Shute passed on but his love of the bears still lives on in the ABA who continue to feed the bears each summer in the same meadow that Vince began in over 50 years before.Even though they discourage the idea of feeding bears and any other wild animal the association knows that this is a special case, where people can come to view wild bears in a situation that is safe for both people and bears. Here is the first set of pictures that I took of the bears.
When we arrived down at the deck the first bear that we saw was this young bear who had enjoyed a fine feast of nuts and berries and had now sacked out on the old entrance to the deck.
He did not seem to mind all of the people on the deck peering over the railing to watch him as he took a nap. He just slept there for a while, occasionally sitting up to take a cautious glance around, then laying his head back to to continue his rest.
As the evening picked up many bears would roll in eat their fill and then head back out.
Many of the larger bears had been visiting this location each summer for many years and so they were recognised by some of the volunteers who had also spent many of their summers there.
One of the bears that the volunteers recognized had only 3 paws. According to the volunteers, this bear was missing its paw back when it first visited as a yearling. They were not sure how the bear had lost the paw or how long he would live with the injury, they do not give any medical attention to the bears. That was back in 1999 and each year since he has come back.
Despite the fact that there were quite a few large bears around there was no quarrelling or fighting between them. The smaller bears did make sure to give the larger bears lots of space but with plenty of food around all of the bears seemed not to mind their fellow bears or the curious humans on the deck.