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How to avoid bear encounters

Published June 05. 2010 09:00AM

To paraphrase that annoying song that received way too much airplay a few years ago: "Who let the bears out?"

Yes, once again, it is that time of the year in Pennsylvania when roaming black bears - many of them yearling boars that their mothers have sent packing - visit backyards, town parks and other areas considered to be off limits. Regionally, bears have been more active than usual, with several sightings reported from Barnesville to Palmerton, and according to Pennsylvania Game Commission wildlife conservation officer Brad Kreider, field officers have handled several trapped bears and one road-killed bear during early April in Northampton County.

With Pennsylvania's estimated population of approximately 17,000 black bears, sightings have become commonplace during the spring and through the early summer. PGC bear biologist Mark Ternent says that bears will keep returning to sites where they have found tasty meals - even in years such as this when the early spring green-up supplied them with a natural food source.

"Now is the time to keep bears from becoming a nuisance later in the summer," Ternent said. "Bears that wander near residential areas in search of springtime foods are less likely to stay or return if they do not find anything rewarding.

"Conversely, 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."

Capturing and moving bears that have become habituated to humans is costly and sometimes an ineffective way of addressing the problem. That is why wildlife agencies around the country have adopted the slogan "A fed bear is a dead bear."

Clearly, prevention is the best medicine.

"Prevent bears from finding something to eat around your house in the first place is the best solution to bear problems," 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."

Ternent said homeowners should remove food sources that might attract bears, but that alone will not solve the problem. It is also important to keep backyard grills clean of cooked food, or better still, keep them in a garage or storage building when not in use.

Here are five suggestions from the PGC that could prevent attracting bears to a property:

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." If feeding songbirds during the summer, 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 wires so they are at least 10 feet above the ground and four feet from anything a bear can climb, including overhead limbs.

Keep it clean ... Keep garbage inside until pick-up day; and avoid disposing of table scraps outside and never add fruit or vegetable wastes to a compost pile. If pets are kept and fed outside, consider placing food dishes inside overnight and encourage neighbors to do the same.

Keep your distance ... If a bear shows up in your backyard, stay calm. Shout at it like you would to chase an unwanted dog, but never approach a bear. If the bear remains, call the nearest PGC regional office or local police department for assistance.

Eliminate temptation ... Bears that visit an area are often drawn there. Neighbors need to work together to reduce an area's appeal to bears, and ask area businesses to keep dumpsters closed and bear-proofed by keeping them chained or locked shut with a metal lid.

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. Do it cautiously, however, using outside lights to full advantage and from a safe position, such as a porch or an upstairs window. All unrecognizable outside noises and disturbances should be checked, but do not do it on foot with a flashlight, as black bears blend in too well with nighttime surroundings providing the chance for a close encounter.

It is also important to remember that if cubs are seen alone, it does not necessarily mean they have been abandoned or orphaned. Chances are very good that "mama" bear is close by and could become aggressive if she believes her "kids" are in danger.

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