Andover students lobby on behalf of black bear

Although the possible future state symbols may have hibernated through the whole thing, Andover Elementary School first-graders were active Monday at the State Capitol on behalf of Ursus americanus, the black bear.

Andover Elementary first-grader Grace Stone appeared before a Senate committee March 12 to get the black bear named the state’s official mammal. Sen. Michelle Benson, R-Ham Lake, who’s carrying the legislation, sits to the left. Photo by T.W. Budig

Andover Elementary first-grader Grace Stone appeared before a Senate committee March 12 to get the black bear named the state’s official mammal. Sen. Michelle Benson, R-Ham Lake, who’s carrying the legislation, sits to the left. Photo by T.W. Budig

Sen. Michelle Benson, R-Ham Lake, is carrying legislation in the Senate to name the black bear the official mammal of Minnesota.

“A state symbol is a big deal,” said Benson, speaking after a Senate hearing.

No, it’s not as important as other things the Legislature does, she said.

“But it doesn’t happen very often,” Benson said of naming state symbols. “So when it does, it’s a big deal.”

Benson’s interest in black bear legislation was piqued after visiting teacher Dana Coleman’s first-grade class at Andover Elementary School.

Coleman’s class has been studying black bears at the North American Bear Center in Ely.

Out of their studies and the knowledge that Minnesota is only one of four states that do not have official state mammals, came the impetus for the legislation.

First-grader Grace Stone in her testimony said that bears will sometimes climb trees when frightened.

“They get scared but they take care of their families,” she said.

A number of Andover first-graders, some clutching stuffed bears, were on hand to see the Senate State Government and Innovation and Veterans Committee pass the black bear designation bill.

The committee also passed another piece of legislation, carried in the Senate by Sen. Gen Olson, R-Minnetrista, that would designate the fertile soil lester — one of some 900 soils in Minnesota — as the official state soil.

Olson, a retired educator, suggested to the committee that state symbols serve as invitations to learn.

Much is known about black bears.

Black bears can weigh up to 500 pounds and attain six feet in length.

Minnesota is home to about 20,000 black bears, according to the Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

Bears like heavy cover, the DNR states, but can venture into open areas when feeding on corn or other crops.

Bears snort, huff, make popping sounds when alarmed or distressed. Cubs make humming sounds when happy, squealing sounds when frightened or alarmed.

Most black bears are found in the northern third of Minnesota, but the DNR states they are found to the south to the extent that forest and agricultural fields intersperse.

Black bears leave their winter dens usually in first part of April. Cubs will stay with their mothers for some 17 months.

State hunters harvest about 3,000 black bears a year.

Coleman was unable to attend Monday’s hearing.

But in a letter to the committee she said that the bear legislation showed “even first-graders have a voice.”

Minnesota grade school children were responsible for a number of recent state symbols becoming law, she said.

Her own student she described as “inquisitive” and “passionate.”

“We need to pass this bill for this amazing group of first graders who’ve put their heart and soul into making this happen,” said Coleman.

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