If you’re walking through the northern part of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula—in what would be the fingertips of its mitten-shaped landmass and you find a giant pile of doughnuts and bacon, it’s not the best kind of fever dream. It’s also not for you, and you might want to make your way out of the woods as quickly as possible.
The Michigan Department of Natural Resources is using huge mounds of doughnuts and 900 pounds of bacon to attract black bears, in the hopes that they’ll be able to get some hair samples to collect the animals’ DNA. (We’re convinced that someone in the DNR thinks that one bear is the Zodiac Killer, because why else would you need so much bear DNA?)
More than 250 locations in that part of the state have been both baited and surrounded by “safely implemented barbed wire” that is supposed to snag tufts of a bear’s hair while it’s pleasantly distracted by the free donuts. The hair will then be removed from the barbed wire and sent to the DNR’s Wildlife Disease Lab for DNA analysis, which might help the agency make better estimates about the state’s bear population. It also may help determine whether one of these bears is responsible for as many as 37 murders in Northern California during the late 1960s and early 1970s.
“Wildlife surveys are one of the most enjoyable parts of our jobs," Dale Rabe, a DNR wildlife field operations manager told MLive. "Being able to hear or see the wildlife we manage or, in the case of the bear survey, being able to find evidence of their presence is a pretty good time in the woods." It’s an even better time if you might be able to save a doughnut or two for yourself before dumping the rest on the forest floor.
According to the DNR, the black bear is the only bear species that is found in the state of Michigan, and most of them live in the Northern Peninsula. In 2015, the agency estimated that there were 11,811 “adult and sub-adult” bears in the state. “The [Upper Peninsula landscape is prime habitat for black bear due to the large connected tracts of forestland that grow over various soil types, which creates abundant food sources and cover for this normally solitary animal,” Kevin Swanson, a wildlife specialist with the DNR’s bear and wolf program said.
Although we’re 100-percent sure that the agency knows what it’s doing, it does warn others against ever intentionally feeding bears, because they’re smart animals with excellent senses of smell—and they tend to remember all of the places where they’ve found food before. Like, say, where they were when they found a massive pile of unattended doughnuts and bacon. (Bears also have a crazy sweet tooth, which is part of the reason why hunters are no longer allowed to bait them using chocolate or cocoa products).
So yeah, don’t touch those forest doughnuts. The Zodiac Bear might be watching.