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What to do if you see a large, furry ‘friend’

Carbon County Game Warden Cory Bentzoni led an educational session about black bears in Pennsylvania earlier this year at Beltzville State Park.

Bentzoni began with a bit of fun facts and statistics, noting there are 13 million people in Pennsylvania and 120 game wardens. In comparison there are 5,000 state troopers.

He said, “If it’s cold and slimy, it’s the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission, if it’s warm and slimy it’s the Pennsylvania Game Commission.”

The game commission was formed in 1895 and began implementing hunting seasons and licenses.

Pennsylvania has the largest black bear population of any state as the state has the best habitat and food sources, such as skunk cabbage, acorns, blueberries and huckleberries. Pennsylvania bears reproduce at an earlier age, as young as 3, and have bigger litters, four to six cubs per litter. Elsewhere two cubs per litter is common.

Black bears have 100 times the scent surface of humans, with 250 times better sense of smell than a bloodhound. They can smell from 5 miles away.

Bentzoni said that Pennsylvania bears do not actually hibernate. They go into “torpor,” slowing down their metabolism, not eating or going to the bathroom. Although it’s called a “den,” the bears go into a brush pile or open air for the winter, with males leaving to eat.

Bears breed every two years, with June and July being the breeding season. Interestingly all bear cubs are born in January as females do not become pregnant until October or November as the “blastocyst” floats dormant in their uterus. Cubs stay with their mother for the first year.

Females average 250 pounds while males average 500-800 pounds. The oldest bear in Pennsylvania lived to be 35 years old.

What do you do if you meet a bear? First, stay calm, bears don’t like confrontation. Back away slowly, keeping your eyes on the bear and making as much noise as possible.

In the unlikely event that a bear attacks, Bentzoni advised to fight back with rocks and sticks, yelling and screaming, hitting the bear in the nose and eyes as this is the most sensitive area.

Suggestions to help keep bears out of the trash include putting powdered lime inside trash bags, taping a sponge soaked in lime inside the bag or spraying Clorox and water in the trash bags.

Carbon County game warden Cory Bentzoni talks about black bears in Pennsylvania. LORI COOPER/SPECIAL TO THE TIMES NEWS