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Encounter with Black Bear in Ely, MN

See Video at end of Story

This is a story about a common Minnesota American Black Bear and a person originally from Indiana, me, who used to believe if you got this close to a Black Bear you were a goner.  Obviously not true.  Since I did get very close and I’m still here, my beliefs must have been incorrect. Mid September, 2015 I was dutifully taking out the compost to the base of the hill behind our home as I do on occasion. The occasion being when my wife, Betsy, tells me it’s time. She determined that 5:15 PM was about right this evening. Looking up the hill at the back, I saw a Black Bear eating green plants on the hill side not the least concerned about my approach or with my being within 30 feet. The bear just kept slowly moving forward and eating not even looking up. As I walked to the back, not knowing he was there, I wasn’t trying to be quite upon approach and was surprised when I saw him. He (I’ll explain later why I believe it to be a male.) on the other hand couldn’t have cared less about my presence. I took out my ubiquitous smart phone and started taking video. The video at the bottom of this page starts with a short segment of this cell phone video. The video below is a 9:00 minute video condensed from about 1.5 hours of video shot on this first and then a second encounter two days later.  Ravens, Crows, a Bluejay along with local dogs barking can be heard in the background.  If you listen carefully you can hear Honey Bees buzzing around the camera and can see the little blurs fly by during filming of the video.

 Two days after the encounter on the hill behind the house, the bear came in about 11:00 AM to feed on bird seed. I heard a crash outside and went out to see the bear munching on a pile of bird seed he had dumped out of one feeder. I’d filled the large bird feeder cylinder the evening before, so it was full, and that is the one he took down. No damage to the feeder. He is a very gentle bear. After hearing the crash I went outside and slowly approached the bear talking softly to him as I approached. I sat down about 10’ away and began filming. About an hour later I changed positions and sat down for filming about 6’ from the bear at a different angle. After more leisurely feeding he stood up looked around and slowly walked to the other side of the backyard for a drink out of our water fountain. The fountain isn’t very sturdy, the top is loosely sitting on it’s pedestal and certainly wouldn’t hold his weight. But, he didn’t knock it over, just stood up lightly balancing with paws on the fountains edge and had a drink. He then looked up smelling another nearby bird feeder. He started to reach for it and politely got down when I told him rather firmly…NO!

He then briefly and nicely posed for some photos and went back to the original feeder to partake of what he had left. Maybe the pickens weren’t good enough now. He stood up and slowly moved toward a number of other seed feeders in that same area, stood up on his hind legs and started to take down another feeder. My response was again NO and then a louder No!, and then….well, you can see the finale in the video, it’s not what I expected!

A few days later he returned late at night, in the dark, and knocked over one of my neighbors bee hives. That caused a much louder crash than a bird feeder crash. When I rushed outside to see what could have made such a commotion he was gone. Even though he continued to come into the yard late at night, he didn’t touch the other bee hive. He continued to come into the yard well into November even after frosts and freezes that I thought would mean time for hibernation. I’ve been told that male bears may not den up until early December long after the females are in their dens. For that reason I’ve called this young polite beautiful Black Bear a he. Another thing I learned, the hard way, was that Black Bears WILL feed on thistle in thistle feeders. I thought taking down all the other feeders would be sufficient, but not so. We have bear teeth prints in what was a new mesh thistle feeder. And, the bear polished off about 2 lbs. of thistle. From now on ALL bird feeders will be put up early Fall on Boundary St. in Ely.

Posted this with question about the bear’s wound to Ely Field Naturalist on Google Groups Dec. 12, 2015  The question, 2nd paragraph below, in bold.

As all Field Naturalists know when you get close to nature the experience will change you.  This encounter with a Black Bear was a peak experience for me and is now ingrained in memory.  The bear was the blackest bear I’ve ever seen.  Its fur was clean and luxurious; the young bear looked robustly healthy.  And, he was polite and hungry. But, no matter how hungry his hunger didn’t overtake his politeness.  He could have cared less that I was within 6 feet of him, but not much.  He looked beyond me not at me when surveying the area while looking up from his feeding.  He was feeding on the bounty of bird seed from a large freshly filled cylindrical bird feeder. He took it off the hanger without damaging it, thus part of his politeness.  I filmed him for about an hour and a half and condensed that video to a 9 min. segment that can be seen at http://www.elyminnesota.com/elybuzz  The remainder of his adjudged politeness was exhibited by his not destroying other bird feeders when I told him NO!

Toward the end of the video as the bear starts moving to the water fountain, you can see a patch on his left mid-side that is completely bare, maybe 4-6″ wide with a deep partially healed wound.  What ever encounter caused that type of wound must have been intense.  Would like to know if anyone might have seen similar wounds on Black Bears and what might be the likely cause. 

The last time we saw a Black Bear in our backyard was about 12 or so years ago.  Neighbors has seen signs of this bear’s presence a few weeks prior to this event.  And, this bear continued to visit until about December 3rd.  Haven’t seen him or signs of since.

Minnesota and mining: Our children, our waters and wild rice are political pawns

Photo by CC/Flickr/Brett Whaley

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) announcement came just two weeks before public comments were due for PolyMet’s Supplemental Draft Environmental Impact Statement. PolyMet’s proposed NorthMet Mine is the first in a long line of sulfide mining projects aimed at turning Minnesota’s Superior National Forest, the lake country of the Arrowhead, into a sulfide-mining district — a district that would impact both the Lake Superior and Rainy River watersheds, arguably in perpetuity.

The announcement? The MPCA had decided overnight not to release its recommendation to maintain or to change the 10mg/L sulfate standard for wild rice waters. Results from the MPCA wild rice study, released earlier, looked promising that the sulfate standard would be upheld. The timing of the agency’s postponement was too coincidental, too sudden, and it just plain reeked. Now we know the stench was real. Investigative digging by the Star Tribune’s Josephine Marcotty uncovered its source: “Iron Range rebellion halted wild rice initiative.”

In 2010, when the MPCA finally decided to start enforcing the sulfate standard, the howls of protest from Iron Range legislators, sulfide mining lobbyists, and the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce could be heard echoing throughout the state Capitol. The Chamber of Commerce sued and lost. Unfortunately Gov. Mark Dayton and the Legislature initiated an unnecessary $1.5 million (taxpayer funded) wild-rice study; and now when the study did indeed indicate the current sulfate standard is reasonable and defensible, Dayton and MPCA Commissioner John Stine are again running for cover. Whatever happened to backing up your scientists instead of caving to political and corporate interests?

Whatever happened to putting the health of the public front and center? The people of northeastern Minnesota have been corporate victims for far too long. And saying so is not denigrating the Iron Range heritage, much as certain Range politicians ratchet up inflammatory rhetoric.

What’s preventing a hard look at the industry?
It is long past time to take a hard look at the mining industry in Minnesota, an industry that still does not meet state water- and/or air-quality standards at any of its currently operating taconite mines. Why not?

Take your pick: lack of enforcement by agency heads; political blackmail by entrenched Iron Range legislators under the guise of jobs; familiar threats by mining corporations to close their doors and leave; or the machinations by the Chamber of Commerce, paying for its own crazed wild-rice report stating that sulfate standards are unnecessary or could be set at 1600 mg/L., with PolyMet Mining, US Steel Corp., Xcel Energy, and the Koch Brothers (Koch Companies Public Sector, LLC.) represented on its board of directors.

Minnesotans continue to be told we should welcome foreign mining corporations with reprehensible records who will magically be able to do a perfect job with sulfide mining, an even more toxic mining process for our waters than taconite. We are told to believe that the decisionmakers at state agencies will suddenly start demanding adherence, insist on writing and enforcing strong water quality standards, never bowing to political pressure. We might as well believe in Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy.

Remember the mesothelioma-study cover-up? In 2007 Sen. John Marty wrote, “MN Health Department Cover-up – Mistake or Malfeasance?” about MDH’s withholding of information on mining deaths — information that was critical to Minnesota taconite miners’ health.

Again, as in 2007, no one involved in responding to the wild-rice study is thinking foremost about the health of the people, in this case especially the health of our children.

Whoa, someone will say. This is about wild rice, not about people.

Really? Those same sulfates that ultimately lead to damage of wild rice also ultimately lead to damage of our children through conversion of inorganic mercury to methyl mercury. [“Methyl mercury is particularly damaging to developing embryos, which are five to ten times more sensitive than adults.” (USGS)] In 2011, the MDH released its study, “Mercury in Newborns in the Lake Superior Basin.” In Minnesota, 10 percent of tested newborns were above “safe” levels for methyl mercury.

It is not just the fish we eat that we need to be concerned about either. Studies in California have shown that wild-rice plants apparently have the capability to uptake methyl mercury to the seeds. Yet the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce was adamant that methyl mercury could not be discussed during the wild-rice/sulfate standard study.

A message
To past and present Chamber of Commerce executives, attorneys, and board members; corporate lobbyists; power and mining industry executives; Iron Range legislators; Minnesota governors; Minnesota Department of Natural Resources commissioners, Land and Minerals Division directors; MDH commissioners; and the MPCA commissioners and directors who initiated the use of variances and consent decrees, who just a year ago abruptly walked away from a million dollar four-year project (TMDL) designed to identify sources of mercury pollution in the St. Louis River: Ask yourselves how many people have died or been physically or neurologically damaged by your actions or inactions.

How many have died from mesothelioma or from other mining-related health issues, deaths that may have been prevented? How many lives have been shortened? How many children have been brain damaged? It is time we talk about accountability and responsibility.

How many children have been neurologically damaged by toxic levels of manganese from the LTV/PolyMet site; or damaged by nickel (Dunka Mine), a carcinogen and a mutagen? What about autism; now linked to mercury, manganese, and nickel in air pollution? (2013 Harvard University Study). How many newborns have lost IQ points proportional to the amount of mercury above “safe” levels in their blood? How does this affect their success in school? When these children reach adulthood how many jobs are denied them as a result? What is the cost for the loss of possibilities in a life?

What is the cost of a life?

This is Minnesota’s watershed moment, literally and figuratively. For the St. Louis River Watershed and Lake Superior, for the Rainy River Watershed and the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, for the Mississippi River Watershed, and for ourselves. Will we protect our water, and in so doing protect our health? Protect our children?

Will we speak? Or will we be silent? Silence is complicity.

C.A. Arneson lives on a lake in the Ely area.  This article was originally published in MinnPost April 15, 2014

Thank you Carla for being one who has never been silent on these vital issues confronting us all.   rw

Mining History 1888-1967 and a few local stories by Iron Mike Hillman

Iron Mike Hillman is active this cold winter, maybe a record cold winter for Ely, with writing, acting, reading his stories at local venues and recently giving a slide show at VCC talking about iron mining and logging between 1888 and 1967.  The receptive crowds have asked for a repeat of his story telling and his history slide show.  So, we present them here.  The VCC slide show was made possible by the generous loan of  historical photos from their growing and very impressive collection, we just converted them to slides for the larger audience at VCC.

Mining History 1888-1967

Earlier in the winter Iron Mike was, at the invitation of a local Arts group, on stage reading some of the historical stories he has written over the years.  Again, the request was to place these recordings on line for others.  And, here those are.

St. Anthony’s Bells

The Story of Ella Hall

Daisy Redfield

Misc. Stories by Iron Mike Hillman


In Ely there is a Schism! The tragic Circle!

In Ely there is a schism,

caused by filiopietism *,

but Elyites tell mining jobs are the sell

and NO to clean water environmentalism!

* “the tragic circle”

The Lesson of the Monkeys-The Tragic Circle

From: February 7, 2012uncategorizedcognitive scienceculturepolitics Jason Wellshttp://jason.wells.me/3551

I was first told of this experiment* by a former work colleague, and later discovered this illustration of it. It’s both illuminating and disturbing.

























































There is a clunky word that describes this phenomenon: filiopietism, or the reverence of forebears or tradition carried to excess. But I prefer another term for it: the tragic circle. I believe many of these tragic circles exist, mostly unseen, in across all cultures and societites, causing untold harm. When discovered, they should be terminated.

The lesson is as obvious as it is important: question everything. Dare to be skeptical. Think of all the age-old idiocy and insanity waiting to be exposed.

* Stephenson, G. R. (1967). Cultural acquisition of a specific learned response among rhesus monkeys. In: Starek, D., Schneider, R., and Kuhn, H. J. (eds.), Progress in Primatology, Stuttgart: Fischer, pp. 279-288.


Paradise Lost? The Ocean as Harbinger by Chuck Dayton September 3, 2013

Chuck Dayton presented personal slides and his observations from a trip to numerous coral reefs in the South Pacific recently to the Ely Tuesday Group at the Grand Ely Lodge last Tuesday.  Chuck described and showed evidence with his slides of the negative effects humans are having on the health of corals in this region.  The same is reported by scientists to be happening to most coral reefs around the world.  Chuck is an accomplished photographer and underwater is a new adventure for him that he has also now mastered.  Take a look at the slides from his trip and we think you will agree.  View the video of his presentation with slides Here.

Chuck pointed out that a very small change in the ocean water temperature causes the food source, special algae, to be expelled from the coral causing the coral’s death.  He also talks about the ramifications of this process, occurring on many of the world’s coral reefs, to other marine life that depends of the coral for their existence.  He also talked briefly about the vitally important plankton food chain in the ocean.  A great source of information about the plankton food chain and another startling look at what we humans are doing to the ocean, and thus to ourselves, is a video called Planet Ocean by Yann Arthus-Bertrand and Michael Pitiot with narration by Josh Duhmel.  This would be a highly recommended view after watching Chuck’s presentation.

Needed Bee Pollinators both Honey Bees and Bumble Bees are disappearing-What can we do?

Elaine Evans a researcher at the University of Minnesota gave a talk in Ely August 21, 2013 sponsored by the Ely Field Naturalists.  She also conducted a short field trip in the afternoon to help us identify local native Bumble Bees.  The facts are Bumble Bees are disappearing, along with Honey Bees, and there are things we can all do to help prevent further declines in our bee populations.   As native plants are replaced by non-native invasive species native pollinator populations, like our native Bumble Bees, also decline.  One thing we can do is bring back native species to our gardens and local areas.  Another important point made by Elaine was to check with your local nursery when purchasing native plants and make sure they do not contain long lasting persistent pesticides.  Scientists now know that pesticides have played a significant role in the decline of bee populations around the world.  Many species now extinct.  You can see Elaine’s full talk here.

We’re going to do it right this time!

If you wake up next week with a serious illness will you be searching for a doctor with a 100% failure rate?  Silly question eh?  Well maybe not.  Maybe it depends on the circumstances.  Maybe you are more interested in wealth than your health and this doctor offers you the promise of a quick fix at a cheap price, to you, besides the promise of “I’m going to do it right this time.”  What would you choose, health or wealth?   Some say they would choose wealth because then they could pay for good health.  Personally,  I think I’ll choose a doctor with close to 100% success rate…just seems my odds are MUCH better that way.

St. Louis County Board rushes past Citizen involvement…if they can. Legal?

Iron Range Politicians for Copper

Fealty Demanded

Iron Range Politicians demand fealty from St. Louis County Board regarding a BWCA land swap to benefit Copper mining in Northeastern Minnesota, all their subterfuge aside.

In a meeting intended for business so urgent that it cannot be delayed till the next meeting on January 8th, St. Louis County Commissioners passed a resolution that weighs in on an issue that has been highly controversial to citizens in St. Louis County, Minnesota and indeed the entire nation for more than 30 years. The only urgency was to avoid the voices of the public weighing in on an issue that has daunted public policy makers for decades.

In reality less money would be made for Minnesota’s schools with the politicians plan than a plan proposed by citizens at this meeting. A proposal that was completely ignored by the board.

Response to Tom Rukavina Letter Two; 7 March 2012

Citizen Mike Hillman versus Goliath Iron Range Politician Tommy RukavinaI see no reason why I can’t just stick with my opening statement that after a hundred years of open pit iron mining near cities like Virginia and Eveleth they are like two islands of humanity in a sea of mining dumps and pits. When I mentioned that all people had to do was take a look at the area around Virginia to see what a huge impact open pit mining can have on an area. Each year the expanding pits and dumps press in closer and closer on the City of Virginia until now even the main highway is going to be moved between Eveleth and Virginia.

Tommy I would like to have everyone living in the Lake Country north of the divide to stop this summer at Viewpoint in the Sky just south of Virginia to take a good look around at the huge contribution of iron this area of the Mesabi Iron Range has given to America. Please don’t waste time, because they are going to dig up the highway soon between Eveleth and Virginia, and I believe the taxpayer will foot the bill, and no doubt IRRB money will be spent in the highway relocation project? I want all the people of Ely and the Greater Lake Vermilion Areas to ask them selves a question: Do you want this mining in your backyard? We are talking the second largest reserve of Copper Nickel and nickel anywhere in the world, and if it is done it will be done on a scale comparable to the mining done near Virginia, and I don’t want to see that done north of the Continental Divide.

Ely and Tower Soudan are small towns surrounded by an ocean of lakes and forest. I would like to keep it that way. How many beautiful homes are there Tommy on Lake Vermilion or Burntside Lake and the dozens of other lakes and rivers where thousands of people have come to build retirement homes in the Superior National Forest? Then there are the hundreds of thousands of people who visit the Boundary Waters Wilderness Area or Voyageurs National Park each year Tommy. Tourism is a seven hundred million dollar business that is self sustaining. The Ely Chamber of Commerce director just won a major tourism award this year. As long as we keep the land and water safe from the certain consequences of mining non ferrous minerals in the Rainy River Water Shed people will want to keep coming to visit this area forever.

Copper Nickel Mining has a terrible reputation. I can listen to what someone says, or I can watch what they do. In the case of these mining companies, their history of conducting business isn’t good. Tommy you want to try to shame me into agreeing to make what I consider to be a bad decision regarding the future of my home. I think this new mining would be a bad thing for future generations to deal with. To you Copper Nickel Mining is a good thing, because it will bring jobs to the area, but you don’t want to look any further than that. To me Copper Nickel Mining is a bad thing, because of the inevitable damage it will bring to the land and water. It is just the nature of the business Tommy. This type of mining will dwarf any mining previously done in the area, and millions of acres of land will eventually be drilled, blasted, and pulverized into millions of tons of noxious sludge. To me Tommy, non ferrous mining is a bad thing because it will blast the land and pollute the water. Doing a bad thing for a good reason as opposed to doing a bad thing for a bad reason is the difference between cat poop and dog poop, and I for one don’t want all that mining poop parked in our back yard.

You write in you second letter that I was arrogant and condescending to you Mesabi Rangers, and if I came out that way I am very sorry. It wasn’t the City of Virginia I was writing about Tommy, but rather the area around it I was alluding to in my history of area mining. And what’s wrong with me pointing out that the two first class golf courses and the beautiful Giants Ridge Ski area, I believe are located on the Mesabi Range, and I believe they were built to help bring tourists to the area. I wonder how much the IRRB spends on Iron World near Chisholm each year to keep that excellent facility in business. I am not criticizing you or the IRRB for investing in the future of the Mesabi Range I think it was money well spent. I think your changing what I said allowed you to give the false impression that all the money you spent was spent everywhere but the Mesabi Iron Range.

The only time I ever worked with the IRRB was when I wrote a half dozen or so grants through the Mine Land Reclamation Division of the IRRB. In order to qualify for Mine Land Reclamation Money the site had to be within a mile of a mining area. That meant that the Pioneer Mine was in the running for IRRB funding The first grant was at the behest of a group of retired miners who once worked in the Ely Mines and then later in places like Mintac, Reserve, and Erie Mining Companies. They elected me chairman of the Retired Miners Committee, and my first order of business was to get the Sheave Wheels up on the head frame of the Pioneer Mine. Over the years your help preserving a National History Site was greatly appreciated by many people and none more than me.

I wrote grants to preserve and disseminate American History in Ely. Those retired miners felt that their work on the Mesabi Range entitled them to a little funding from the IRRB. The last grant I wrote was a few years back and the IRRB helped preserve one of two radial brick chimneys in the State of Minnesota. Thanks to help from many people including the IRRB, Federal, State, County, and City helped the Miners Dry House become a place where hundreds of people come to visit a beautiful part of American History each summer. Everything made of steel in both world wars had a small amount of Vermilion Range Iron in it, and I thought that history deserving of preservation, but I have no desire to see non ferrous mining done north of the divide.

What you Mesabi Rangers do with your back yards is up to you, and I will respect your decision, just as I hope you will understand my desire to keep the bird now in hand. As long as we are good stewards of our land and waters, each generation will have something to keep them here forever, but if we violate that covenant and pollute the Kawishiwi Water Shed, then we are ruining things for future generations. There are very few places like Ely left in the world Tommy, sitting like it does on the edge of a two millions acre Wilderness Area flowing directly into a National Park. I would rather this generation re-affirms the decision of past generations who certainly thought that this area was deserving of respect and preservation as the only true wilderness area east of the Mississippi River in the Contiguous United States.

By: Iron Mike Hillman


Frank Moe to deliver petitions to Govenor Dayton March 8, 2012

Frank Moe and his Huskies
The Race To Protect Minnesota from
Acid Mine Drainage

SLED DOGS TO ST. PAUL – Sunday and Monday events in Duluth, Thursday at the Capitol.
Reminder –
March 4, Duluth Lester Park Event 3-4 pm
(Lester Park Pavilion 61st Ave. East and Superior St)
March 5, West Duluth Munger Inn Event 9-10 am
(Williard Munger Inn, 7408 Grand Ave.)
March 8, St. Paul Capital Event 10:30-11:30 am
(75 Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.)

Former State legislator and dog sled musher Frank Moe is planning a dog sled run from northeastern Minnesota to St. Paul. Frank Moe and his dog team will deliver petitions from across the state to the Capitol on March 8th. Concerned citizens, local businesses, and many environmental organizations and groups are involved in the fight to save our beloved Arrowhead Region from copper-nickel sulfide mining, a dangerous new type of mining never before permitted in Minnesota.