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Bears sighted near Boonsboro

July 16, 1998|By SHEILA HOTCHKIN

BOONSBORO - Six Boonsboro-area residents have reported bear sightings since mid-June, according to Maryland's Department of Natural Resources.

Officials speculate that one bear has taken up residence near Boonsboro and is responsible for all the calls, as well as for a recent Smithsburg sighting.

That is a safe bet "whenever it's in such a confined area," said Patty Manown Mash, a spokeswoman for the Department of Natural Resources.

The Boonsboro sightings have resulted in little damage, with only an occasional birdfeeder disturbed since the bear's arrival, Mash said.

Last year, DNR recorded 18 bear complaints in Washington County, including five sightings, two birdfeeder complaints, two trash complaints and four hit by cars.

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Bears are generally nocturnal, and often shy from contact with humans, Mash said.

But she warned they have an acute sense of smell and will eat anything that resembles food. The animals also have good memories, and frequently will return to a site where they once found food.

Once a bear begins to associate food with humans, it will lose its fear of people and might have to be relocated or destroyed, Mash said.

The DNR remind residents that it is illegal to feed or bait the bears. Killing the bears is against the law, and is punishable by a $1,500 fine.

Mash said while the bear might disturb trash or birdfeeders, it apparently is unaccustomed to contact with people and it's unlikely anyone will have a face-to-face encounter.

"Whenever people are calling in reports, they're seeing them running from the yard," she said.

While department officials warn Boonsboro residents not to encourage visits from the bear, they do not want anyone to panic about the animal's presence.

"There is no reason to be alarmed," said Steve Bittner, a forest game biologist for the state agency. "The black bear is native to surrounding states as well as this area and has recently made a comeback in Maryland, particularly in Garrett and Allegany counties."

Formerly a state endangered species, black bears have rebounded in the state. Mash estimates their population at close to 400.

Bittner said his division is working to educate Marylanders on how to live with black bears.

DNR encourages Marylanders to report bear sightings or problems to the agency's local Wildlife Office at 301-842-2702.

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