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Black bear sightings increase

July 08, 1999|By BRUCE HAMILTON

-- related story: Bear cub tours Fairplay

Black bear sightings in Washington County have tripled since last year, according to the Department of Natural Resources.

There were 10 sightings in the county in 1998 and 35 reports already this year. But authorities say that doesn't mean the area is experiencing a bear boom because the same animal can be spotted several times in one day.

"There is no way to accurately say how many it is," DNR spokesman John Surrick said Thursday. "It's hard to tell one sighting from another."

Surrick estimates there are a handful of bears in Washington County.

Bear populations are increasing across the state, said DNR biologist George Timko. When the animal's breeding season begins in June, the mothers, called sows, send their yearling cubs off to find their own territories.

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Mature males can roam as many as 75 square miles in search of a mate, Timko said. Each sow can have two to three cubs and the young males also wander long distances.

Bears from neighboring states such as West Virginia and Pennsylvania may be moving into Maryland because populations in those states are nearing capacity, according to Timko.

"Their habitat is not defined by political boundaries," he said.

Last summer, two sows were struck by vehicles, one in Clear Spring and the other in Hancock, Timko said. The bears had been tagged in Pennsylvania and both were lactating, so they probably had cubs with them before the accidents, he said.

Black bears prefer large, forested habitats but they have been seen in developed areas.

DNR urges people who spot bears to leave them alone and never feed them. It is illegal to feed, harass or destroy a black bear in Maryland.

Bears are attracted to homes and cabins by garbage, bird feeders, pet food, grills, fruit trees and gardens.

To avoid a bear nuisance, DNR recommends reducing garbage odor by rinsing food cans and wrappers before tossing them into the trash. The agency also suggests cleaning garbage cans and using lime to reduce odor.

DNR also suggests:




  • Keep pet food inside.
  • Clean picnic tables and grills.
  • Compost vegetable scraps and keep meat scraps in the freezer until garbage pickup day.
  • Remove bird feeders or take suet, seed and other food inside at night.


Dogs and bright lights also discourage bears from coming around.

Homeowners who spot bears in their yards should not shoot or approach the animal, according to DNR.

Experts say bears are shy and most will leave when they spot humans.

DNR recommends making loud noises or throwing something to scare away a bear.

And the agency warns that if a bear woofs, snaps its jaws, or slaps the ground or brush, it is best to back slowly away, go inside and wait for it to leave.

If a bear is in a tree, leave it alone and it will go when it feels safe, DNR says.

For more information on black bears, visit or write DNR's Indian Springs Wildlife Management Area at 14038 Blairs Valley Road, Clear Spring, MD 21722.

To report a sighting, contact the wildlife and heritage division office at 301-842-2702.

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