Madison wildlife sighting: Black bear wanders neighborhoods, climbs tree and crosses highway

Black bear sightings are somewhat rare in south central Wisconsin, although animal's range has been expanding as its population rebounds

A black bear lounges in a tree near a home on Madison's west side.
A black bear lounges in a tree near a home on Madison’s west side on Saturday, April 29, 2023. Nicki Stapleton/Madison Police Department

A small black bear took a walking tour of Madison this weekend.

The animal was seen on the city’s west side Saturday, where it traipsed across neighborhoods and climbed a tree.

The four-legged commuter was later spotted Sunday night crossing the city’s Beltline Highway at the 2100 block of Bascom Street, a Madison police spokesperson said.

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No one was hurt and a Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources official believes the bear eventually traveled on its own accord to a more secluded area.

Although black bears are relatively uncommon in Dane County, the animal’s range in Wisconsin has been expanding south and west, said DNR wildlife biologist Julie Widholm.

“Since we’ve had more regulated hunting, the bear numbers have kind of rebounded,” Widholm said.

In 1989, there were only about 9,000 black bears in the state. Now, there are more than 24,000, according to a recent estimate from the DNR.

Wisconsin black bear sightings tend to spike in early summer when young males go searching for mates. Madison’s furry visitor may well have been the same bear glimpsed last week in nearby Mount Horeb, Widholm said.

Bears are usually afraid of humans, so unless they’re protecting cubs or a food source, they’ll let people be, Widholm said. If you need to get a bear out of your yard, Widholm says it’s OK to try and scare it off by banging pots and pans or by waving your hands over your head to appear larger.

But, in general, it’s best to keep your distance.

“The thing we stress, especially in these urban situations, is to allow the bear to have an escape route,” Widholm said. “Do not surround the bear by any means.”

That advice was echoed by Madison police spokesperson Stephanie Fryer, who noted state law prohibits harassing or disturbing protected wild animals.

“A lot of people have heard about the bear and are trying to see it themselves in person,” Fryer wrote in an email Monday afternoon. “This is causing crowds to gather in normally quiet residential areas. We’ve (had) to warn people about trespassing, blocking the sidewalk, being too close to the bear. Someone even wanted to fly their drone up to the bear.”

There have been no reports of property damage or threats to the public as a result of the bear, Fryer said. Thus far, it seems the bear’s been content to relax and explore Madison.