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Game Commission: Sightings of black bears not uncommon this time of year

Black bear sightings in residential neighborhoods are all too common this time of year.

Gerald Kapral, the Northeast region information and education supervisor with the game commission, said, “Black bears are active in the spring when they come out of hibernation,” Kapral said. “You could see large varieties of bears walking around; it’s not unusual.”

“Face it; we’ve got a large bear population here in the Northeast region. You could see bears any time of the day or night. Spring or fall, you could see a bear 24 hours a day, so it’s not really a concern.”

Palmerton Borough is an example. The borough posted a message on its Facebook page recently with recommendations from the Pennsylvania Game Commission when a bear is nearby.

“If you come across a bear on your property, make some noise to alert the bear of your presence, giving it ample time and space to turn and leave,” the post states. “Back away slowly while facing the bear so you always know where the bear is and how it is reacting.

Wild bears rarely attack people, but the commission says to slowly back away to give the bear room to flee. Bears are on the prowl for human food, garbage, bird feed, pet foods, and fruits from trees or gardens.

“Bears have been known to travel 90 miles back to an area they are familiar with. It is unusual for town to have this many sightings; however, the bear population has grown in Pennsylvania. We need to be respectful of nature and follow best practice to avoid problems,” Palmerton posted.

The bad part is once bears find food sources, they will keep coming back as long as food is available.

With every returning trip they slowly lose their fear of people.

“The best way to get rid of these unwanted visitors is to remove or secure food sources,” the commission recommends.

Clean garbage cans regularly with hot water and bleach. Clean the outdoor grill after every use and properly dispose of grill grease.

Kapral added that while a female black bear is defensive of her cub and may voice her displeasure if someone tries to get too close, it does not indicate that an attack is imminent.

“We’ve never had a black bear attack or kill a human here in Pennsylvania,” he said.

Franklin Klock, program assistant, Carbon County Environmental Education Center, said, “A common misconception is that bears are coming out of hibernation now and they’re looking for food.

“While there’s some truth to that, black bears here in Pennsylvania, because of our climate, are not true hibernators.”

Klock offered some tips in the event one finds themselves in contact with a black bear.

“Make yourself as big as possible, stand up straight, make as much noise as possible,” he said. “Canned air horns are great just to make yourself as annoying as possible to bears, they don’t hear particularly well.”

Don’t be afraid, Klock said.

“From what we’ve read, from what we’ve seen about black bear attacks, many, many times it’s not an attack at all,” he said. “One of the common denominators I see in stories are either food or pets.”

Klock said taking food sources away and removing anything that would attract a bear can go a long way toward solving the issue, and added that applying ammonia or lime on trash can serve as deterrents to keep bears away.

“Don’t put your trash out until the morning it gets picked up,” he said. “People that have the biggest problems are those who are unwilling to change their habits.”

A copy of “Living with Pennsylvania Black Bears” provides additional information, and is available on the game commission website, www.pgc.pa.gov, or at the Palmerton Borough office.

The game commission doesn’t usually remove a bear unless a resident reports damage or a serious threat. To report a problem, call the game commission at 570-675-1143.