Many Pennsylvanians are spending more time outdoors and seeing more wildlife and signs of wildlife in their yards and other places they frequent. Among the wildlife becoming more visible are Pennsylvania's roughly 15,000 black bears, all of which are looking for food.
Since bears are found throughout most of the state, Mark Ternent, Pennsylvania Game Commission black bear biologist, said bear sightings are always common at this time of year. Food for bears is naturally scarce in the spring until vegetation begins to green-up, but bears emerging from dens need to find something to eat after fasting for several months. Thus, sightings and, in some cases, conflicts increase as bears look for food, including in backyards.
"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."
Ternent noted capturing and moving bears that have become habituated to humans is 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:
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. If you do chose to feed songbirds during the summer, Audubon Pennsylvania offers some tips, including: 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 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. Don't put out garbage until pick-up day; don't throw table scraps out back; don't add fruit or vegetable wastes to your compost pile; and clean your barbecue grill regularly. If you have pets and feed them outdoors, consider placing food dishes inside overnight. Encourage your 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. Don't approach it. If the bear won't leave, call the nearest Game Commission regional office or local police department for assistance.
Eliminate temptation. Bears that visit your 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 (chained or locked shut with a metal lid).
Check please! If your dog is barking, or cat is clawing at the door to get in, try to determine what has alarmed your pet. But do it cautiously, using outside lights to full advantage and from a safe position, such as a porch or an upstairs window.
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 you encounter cubs, leave the area the way you entered it and leave the cubs alone. Staying in the vicinity prevents the mother from returning or may aggravate her, and attempting to care for the cubs 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."
"As a result of Pennsylvania's large human and bear populations, it is not uncommon for people and bears to encounter one another," Ternent said. "These encounters occur because housing developments and businesses continue to encroach into bear habitat, while bears also have expanded their range closer to human populated areas. Chance encounters in the field also appear to be more common than before in some areas."
Ternent noted that although bears are not strangers to Pennsylvanians, bears are misunderstood by many.
"Bears needn't be feared, nor should they be dismissed as harmless. They simply need to be respected," Ternent said. He stressed that in the past 10 years fewer than 15 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 most 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," Ternent said. He also advised:
Stay Calm. If you see a bear and it hasn't seen you, leave the area calmly. Talk or make noise while moving away to help it discover your presence. Choose a route that will not intersect with the bear if it is moving.
If you have surprised a bear, slowly back away while talking softly. Face the bear, but avoid direct eye contact. Do not turn and run; rapid movement may be perceived as danger to a bear that is already feeling threatened. Avoid blocking the bear's only escape route and try to move away from any cubs you see or hear. Do not attempt to climb a tree. A female bear may falsely interpret this as an attempt to get at her cubs, even though the cubs may be in a different tree.
If a bear is displaying signs of nervousness pacing, swinging its head, or popping its jaws about your presence, leave the area. Some bears may bluff charge to within a few feet. If this occurs, stand your ground, wave your arms wildly, and shout at the bear. Turning and running could elicit a chase and you cannot outrun a bear.
If a bear attacks, fight back as you continue to leave the area. Black bears have been driven away with rocks, sticks, binoculars, car keys, or even bare hands.
In 2003, a regulation prohibiting the feeding of bears went into effect. The regulation made it unlawful to intentionally "lay or place food, fruit, hay, grain, chemical, salt or other minerals that may cause bears to congregate or habituate an area." The exceptions to this regulation are "normal or accepted farming, habitat management practices, oil and gas drilling, mining, forest management activities or other legitimate commercial or industrial practices."
The regulation enables Game Commission Wildlife Conservation Officers (WCOs) to issue written notices that direct landowners to discontinue other forms of wildlife feeding, even if not intended for bears, if the feeding is attracting bears to the area and causing problems with bears in the neighborhood.
The intent of this regulation is to reduce human-bear conflicts, not to put a stop to other wildlife feeding or songbird feeding
To report nuisance bears, contact the Game Commission Region Office nearest you. For Warren County, that is the Northwest Region Office in Franklin, Venango County, 814-432-3188.