HARRISBURG – Last year's revamping of the black bear season by the Pennsylvania Game Commission board of game commission was one of mixed results.
By opening the three-day statewide firearms season on a Saturday, more youth licenses were sold than ever before. By eliminating all concurrent bear hunting during the first week of the firearms deer season, however, approximately 1,000 fewer bears were taken by hunters than was hoped.
Now, with the arrival of spring, people will begin spending more times outdoors pursuing a variety of activities. As a result, PGC black bear biologist Mark Ternent reminds people to be aware that many of Pennsylvania's approximately 18,000 black bears were become more visible and all of them will be looking for food.
"After several months of hibernation, sightings of bears will be to increase as spring progresses," Ternent said. "Food for bears is naturally scarce in early spring until green-up, so some bears emerging from dens may be attracted to other food sources found near people, setting the stage for nuisance bear problems.
"Bears that wander near residential areas in search of food are less likely to stay or return if they do not find anything rewarding, however, if bears find food in backyards, they quickly learn to associate food with residential areas and begin to spend more time in those areas. As a result, encounters between humans and bears, property damage and vehicle accidents involving bears may increase."
Ternent said that taking action now to avoid attracting or keeping bears close to residential areas can help prevent bears from becoming even more of a nuisance later in the summer.
"Those who have been feeding birds this winter should plan to stop, or at least curtail, their feeding," Ternent said. "Anything edible placed outside for any reason whether it is food for wildlife or pets or unsecured garbage gives bears a reason to visit your property.
"If denied the easy access to food, bears generally will move on, so it is important to remember that attempting to trap and move bears that have become habituated to humans can be a costly and sometimes ineffective way of addressing the problem. That is why wildlife agencies around the country tell people that a 'fed bear is a dead bear.'"
Ternent listed five suggestions that could prevent attracting bears to a property:
* 1. Play it smart. Do not feed wildlife. Food placed outside for wildlife, such as corn for squirrels, may attract bears. Even bird feeders can become "bear magnets." Bear conflicts with bird feeding generally don't arise in the winter because bears are in their winter dens, but at other times of the year, birdfeeders will attract problem bears. For those feeding songbirds during the summer, Audubon Pennsylvania advises to avoid foods that are particularly attractive for bears, such as sunflower seeds, hummingbird nectar mixes or suet; bring feeders inside at night or suspend feeders from high crosswires at least 10 feet above the ground and four feet from anything a bear can climb, including overhead limbs.
* 2. Keep it clean. Never place garbage out until pick-up day; never throw table scraps outside; never add fruit or vegetable wastes to a compost pile; and clean barbecue grills regularly. If pets are fed outdoors, consider placing food dishes inside overnight, and encourage neighbors to do the same.
* 3. Keep a safe distance. If a bear shows up, stay calm. Shout at it like would be done to chase an unwanted dog. Never approach it. If the bear remains, call the nearest PGC regional office or local police department for assistance.
* 4. Eliminate temptation. Bears that visit an area are often drawn there. Neighbors need to work together to reduce an area's appeal to bears. Ask area businesses to keep dumpsters closed and bear-proofed by chaining or locking shut with a metal lid.
* 5. Check please! If a dog is barking, or cat is clawing at the door to get in, try to determine what has alarmed the pet, but do it cautiously, using outside lights to full advantage and from a safe position. All unrecognizable outside noises and disturbances should be checked, but not on foot with a flashlight. Black bears blend in too well with nighttime surroundings providing the chance for a close encounter.
Pennsylvanians also are reminded that if they see cubs alone, it does not necessarily mean they have been abandoned or orphaned.
"During the spring, sows may leave their cubs for several hours, typically up in a tree, while they forage," Ternent said. "If cubs are encountered, leave the area the way it was entered it and leave the cubs alone.
"Staying in the vicinity prevents the mother from returning, and attempting to care for the cubs is illegal and may result in exposure to wildlife diseases or habituate the young bears to humans. Cubs that have been removed from the wild and habituated to people are difficult to rehabilitate for release back into the wild and may result in the cub being euthanized."
Ternent noted that, as a result of Pennsylvania's large human and bear populations, it is not uncommon for people and bears to encounter one another.
"Bears needn't be feared, nor should they be dismissed as harmless; but they should be respected," Ternent said. "In the past 10 years fewer than 20 people have been injured by bears in Pennsylvania, and there are no known records of a Pennsylvania black bear killing a human.
"Injury from a black bear is often the result of a human intentionally or unintentionally threatening a bear, its cubs, or a nearby food source, and the best reaction is to defuse the threat by leaving the area in a quiet, calm manner."
To report nuisance bears in the Northeast Region, call 570-675-1143; in the Southeast Region call 610-926-3136.