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More bears?

One effect of staying home due to the coronavirus is seeing more of your neighbors on a day-to-day basis.

That isn’t just limited to human neighbors - as the weather has warmed people have been seeing and photographing the wildlife near their homes - whether it’s songbirds, deer or bears.

“When people are around their homes more instead of at work, they may see things that may be happening every day when you’re not there,” said Bill Williams, information and education supervisor for the Pennsylvania Game Commission.

There has been evidence that the disruption of normal human activity has led to wildlife sightings in places across the country where they normally wouldn’t be seen.

In national parks out west, currently closed due to COVID-19, rangers say they’re seeing more wildlife, including bears.

Williams isn’t so sure that is the case in Pennsylvania, because none of our parks are closed. However the timing of the shutdown happens to have coincided with the season when bears are emerging from their hibernation and regaining the weight they lost over the winter.

Pennsylvania’s black bears can weigh up to 800 pounds and are known for being larger than those found in other states, Williams said. Some of the biggest ones - at least those taken by hunters - have been found in the northeast region. Just this last hunting season, a Jim Thorpe resident shot a bear that was 696 pounds.

One reason is there is always a natural food source available. Pennsylvania black bears have a seasonal diet, according to Williams. From skunk cabbage in the spring, to berries in the summer and nuts and seeds in fall, the available food allows Pennsylvania’s black bears to be bigger than others across the country by average.

“They have a great variety of food items to choose from almost year-round. There’s really no dearth, no period of time when there’s not much to eat in Pennsylvania out there in the woods,” Williams said.

But as Pennsylvania residents have experienced, bears are also known to knock over a feeder or trash can in search of a meal.

Most bears only will only go through a residential area looking for easy food sources one time. But if a bear begins to return repeatedly, Williams encourages residents to look for obvious food sources - such as bird feeders or garbage.

“The idea, if possible, is to eliminate that food source until things settle down and that bear is gone,” Williams said.

If a bear becomes a repeated problem in an area, the game commission may decide to remove the bear using a trap. During the summer months, game wardens in the northeast region are setting traps and removing bears on a daily basis.

Typically nuisance bears are juveniles and weigh only 350-400 pounds.

Young bears are more likely to be a nuisance because they’re just learning about life away from their mother.

Bears reproduce every two years. When a bear nears 2 years old, they leave their mother so she can prepare to raise another cub.

When a bear emerges from hibernation, they have lost up to 30 percent of their body weight, so they’re looking for any food source they can find.

More on bears

Normally the game commission holds events where residents can learn more about the bears and other animals who call Pennsylvania’s woods home.

Sometimes, when a game warden is transferring a tranquilized bear inside a trap, they’ll stop by a local school to let them observe the process of weighing and tagging the bear.

But due to the coronavirus those programs are on hold.

In the meantime, the game commission offers online materials in its “wildlife on wifi” section at pgc.pa.gov.

Pennsylvania Game Commission Wildlife Conservation Officer Cory Bentzoni checks out a bear trapped recently in Penn Forest Township. Bentzoni believes that more bears in residential neighborhoods might be because of the lack of a snow pack this winter. Without snow on the ground, many of the nuts and acorns were eaten by other wildlife, forcing the bears to look for other food sources. BOB FORD/TIMES NEWS
A female bear lies in front of a trap in Penn Forest Township recently. The sow weigh in at around 225 pounds.
Pennsylvania Game Commission Wildlife Conservation Officer Cory Bentzoni removes a female bear from a trap in Penn Forest Township.