Friday morning Dorothy Ohmer of Russell heard her neighbor's dog barking incessantly. She discovered four bear cubs high in a tree near her backyard.
This is the time of the year when bears climb out of their dens with a healthy appetite and little to eat.
"After several months of hibernation, sightings of bears will increase as spring progresses," said Mark Ternent, Game Commission black bear biologist. Food for bears is naturally scarce in early spring until green-up. So some bears emerging from dens may be attracted to other food sources found near people, setting the stage for nuisance bear problems.
Times Observer photos by Rob Andersen
The bear above watched the photographer, but the other three were apparently uninterested.
Ternent stressed that bears wandering near residential areas in search of food 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," he said. As a result, encounters between humans and bears, property damage and vehicle accidents involving bears may increase.
"If denied easy access to food, bears generally will move on. It is important to remember that attempting to trap and move bears that have become conditioned to food can be 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 advised people to "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.
Ohmer said she has been bringing in her bird feeders every night to avoid problems, and may take them down over the summer, even though she loves to see the wild birds.
"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, and attempting to care for the cubs is illegal and may result in exposure to wildlife diseases or habituate the young bears to humans."
Tera Darts, Warren County animal control officer said, " People picking up any baby animals, birds, rabbits and others are only harming them. The mothers leave the young while they find food, and they are not abandoning them." She added, "When people call us about wild animals, we can't do anything to help. Leave them alone. Unfortunately, we can only deal with domestic animals."
To report nuisance bears, contact the Northwest Region Office in Franklin, Venango County, 814-432-3188.