Are black bears making a come back in Ohio? Did you know that approximately 70 or so different black bears are reported annually in the Buckeye State according to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources? In fact, a male black bear was recently struck and killed by a car in northeast Ohio. Although black bears haven’t been sited too close to home yet, it may not be as far fetched as you may think.
ODNR Division of Wildlife biologists explain the young adult bears disperse annually, typically as a result of being driven off by their mother as she prepares for the breeding season. Male bears have a larger home range and may travel several hundred miles in search of a mate. Female bears have a smaller home range and seldom venture as far to establish territories.
If a bear is sighted, individuals should contact the Division of Wildlife District Office (740-589-9930) to report the sighting, and then leave the bear alone. Every year, some bear reports in Ohio are associated with nuisance situations. When people remove potential food sources, conflicts with bears often diminish. Moving bird feeders higher, removing uneaten pet food, keeping trash inside until pick up day, and cleaning up after grilling out all help to deter bears from frequenting an area and becoming nuisances.
Efforts to monitor black bears in Ohio are supported by the Endangered Species and Wildlife Diversity Fund, which receives donations through the sale of Ohio Wildlife Legacy Stamps, the state income tax checkoff program, and the purchase of cardinal license plates. More information is available at wildohio.gov.
The black bear is listed as an endangered species in Ohio and protected by state law.
Historically, black bears roamed the Buckeye State. Unfortunately, unregulated hunting and habitat loss rendered bears extirpated from Ohio by 1850. Today, Ohio is again home to a small but growing population of black bears. Ohio’s bear population is estimated to be anywhere from 50-100 individual bears. It is important we understand a little about the biology and habits of the black bear if we are to coexist comfortably with this Ohio resident.
Most black bears range in size from 100 to 400 pounds, are 5 to 6 feet in length and average 3 feet high at the shoulder. The majority of bears in Ohio weigh between 125-250 pounds, and are juvenile male bears. Dispersing young black bears will often travel great distances in search of new habitat and are most likely to be seen by or interact with humans. These bears are extremely agile and are able to run up to 35 mph, climb trees with ease and swim long distances. Bears are omnivores, meaning they will eat a wide variety of foods. Depending on the season, their diet may include grasses, forbs, berries, mast from oak, hickory, and beech trees, carrion, and insect larvae. Bears will also consume agricultural crops, if available.
Black bears are usually fearful of people, therefore bear attacks are a rare occurrence. Bears do not attack or kill children or pets as long as the bear is given its space and not cornered. The first thing to do when you see a bear is REMAIN CALM. Generally, black bears are non-aggressive and prefer to flee from the area as soon as they are aware of your presence. If you encounter a bear, and it is not aware of your presence, simply back away from the area slowly. If the bear is aware of your presence and it does not leave the area, avoid direct eye contact with the animal, give the bear an easy escape route and again, simply back slowly away from the area. Always avoid running or climbing trees, which may provoke a chase.
An easy way to remember this is to be AWARE: Act calm and do not run. Warn the bear that you are near; talk in a firm, calm voice. Allow space between you and the bear. Step aside and back slowly away. Do not make the bear feel trapped or threatened. Raise your hands above your head to appear larger if the bear approaches. Clap your hands or shout to scare the bear away. Exit the area.
Black bears are large animals and can cause significant damage while in search of an easy meal. If your yard is being visited by a black bear there are several things that must be done to ensure that the animal doesn’t become a “problem bear”. A “problem bear” can be defined as an animal that has lost its natural fear of humans and habitually causes property damage while in search of food. In this instance all potential food attractants must be removed from the area.
This includes: Bird feeders and other wildlife feed-remove feeders, including hummingbird and suet feeders.Trash receptacles-store your garbage either in a garage or a secure container.Pet foods-keep pet foods inside, especially at night.Grease from grills-clean out grease traps after each use; store grill in garage or shed.Secure beehives-place electric fencing around beehives.Crops-pick fruit from berry bushes as soon as possible; scare bears out of agriculture fields as soon as damage occurs.
As you travel this summer and enjoy the outdoors, especially in the eastern part of the state, keep your eyes open and maybe you will catch a glimpse of one of these rare creatures. And who knows, maybe someday, they may even adventure into our area.
Until next time, Good Hunting and Good Fishing!
Ken Parrott is an Agricultural Science teacher with Northmor High School.