Abnormally dry conditions in the Apostle Islands prompt cautions about fire and potential bear encounters

Stockton Island bear - Jon Okerstrom photo

June 20, 2023

As drought-like conditions continue in much of northern Wisconsin, users of the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore are urged to be very careful with fire and to be vigilent about potential interactions with hungry black bears.

As of June 21st, the Wisconsin DNR says the fire danger in Bayfield, Douglas and Ashland Counties is high, meaning “wildfires ignite easily, spread rapidly and can be challenging to control.” The number of northern Wisconsin counties classified as “high danger” increased dramatically from June 20th.

As the DNR graphic below also shows, the fire danger in the blue counties is moderate, meaning “wildfires can ignite and will spread but are relatively easy to contain.”

Wisconsin Fire Danger June 21, 2023

The National Park Service urges caution, due to dry and at times windy conditions. The Park Service says, “While no burn bans or fire restrictions are in place the public is encouraged to be cautious with campfires and open flames.” The dry conditions also enhance the risk Fourth of July fireworks pose in Northern Wisconsin. Read National Park Service regulations here. By the way, fireworks are also prohibited in Wisconsin DNR-managed lands.

An island black bear

An Apostle Island black bear – file photo

The dry conditions also limit the food available to black bears inhabiting some of the islands. Campers are urged to follow these guidelines to avoid bear problems:


  • Never feed wild animals.
  • Store food in bear-resistant food storage lockers where provided.
  • Hang food-cache away from your tent at least 12 feet off the ground, and at least 4 feet away from the tree trunk.
  • Prepare food well away from your tent.
  • Do not eat or keep food, garbage, toiletries, or unwashed dishes in your tent.
  • Do not bury or scatter food scraps.

Although bears (Makwa – Black bear) are naturally very wary and avoid people, they tend to expand their search for food when it becomes scarce. That search sometimes that brings them into campsites.

Stockton Island hosts one of the greatest concentrations of black bears in North America. They love the  blueberry patches around Julian Bay, as photographer Jon Okerstrom’s featured photo at the top of the story demonstrates. Black bears are strong swimmers so you may find them on just about any of the Apostle Islands. For more tips on bear safety, visit the National Park Service website.

You can track Wisconsin’s fire danger on the Department of Natural Resources website.

You can track drought conditions in Wisconsin at the US Drought Monitor site.

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