History of the Vince Shute Wildlife Sanctuary

Born in 1913, Vince Shute grew up on a small dairy farm. When he was in the ninth grade, his father suffered a debilitating stroke and Vince quit school to assume his father’s responsibilities on the farm. To support the family, Vince took a second job, working in the woods. With the Great Depression, milk prices dropped and the Shute’s had to sell their cows. Vince went to work in the woods full-time, and by the age of 25 he owned his own logging company. Vince and his loggers lived in the remote north woods with wildlife as their only neighbors. Black bears, attracted by the smells of food preparation and disposal, became a nuisance. Out of fear, the men solved this problem by shooting the bears, but after three decades, Vince began to question the killing. Having observed the animals he came to the conclusion that “The bears weren’t mean – only hungry.” In the early 70s, to prevent bears from breaking into the cabins, he put food out in the meadow area to see if that would keep them away. In today’s world, we now know that Vince was wrong to start feeding wild bears, but he was ahead of his time in seeking a means of coexistence.

Bears continued to visit the logging camp as a food source during their foraging season. What began as an act of survival slowly evolved into a labor of love. A special relationship developed between Vince and the bears. By the mid-eighties, Vince had become something of a local celebrity and was often referred to as “The Bear Man.”

A growing number of people learned of Vince and the bears. They came from all over Minnesota and beyond to witness the amazing relationship between Vince and “his” bears. Even today, when the bears are in the two-acre meadow they accept the presence of people. Outside of this area they revert back to their normally wild and elusive ways, exhibiting their natural fear of humans.

As the years went by, Vince’s health began to deteriorate and he was concerned about what would happen to the bears after he was gone. In the fall of 1993, at the age of 80, Vince approached three friends who shared his interest in the bears. To help secure the bears’ future, he donated his interest in the land for the formation of The American Bear Association, which was established as a nonprofit organization in January 1995.

Vince Shute passed away on July 4, 2000 at the age of 86. The Vince Shute Wildlife Sanctuary is his legacy to us and to future generations: a special place where humans can learn to coexist with bears.