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Bear sightings on rise

September 23, 2002|by RICHARD BELISLE

waynesboro@herald-mail.com

Once rare in Fulton County, black bears are becoming more common in the back yards of rural homes and on the county's roadways.

So far this year, five black bears have been killed by motorists in the county, said Travis Pugh, a state game warden. One of them weighed 406 pounds, he said.

Bears have been hit by vehicles on Interstate 70, the Pennsylvania Turnpike and in the Waterfall area in northern Fulton County.

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Pugh said calls to his office on bear sightings in people's yards are increasing.

Many of the complaints involve bears getting into beehives and bird feeders, he said. There have been several reports of bears attacking livestock, but none has been proved so far.

Residents have complained that bears destroy their garbage containers, ruin fruit trees and have damaged doors trying to get in houses. Most said they don't fear the bears as long as the animals don't come too close.

While black bears are not considered particularly dangerous to humans, they should be treated with respect and given wide berth, especially when sows are seen with cubs, Pugh said.

Attacks on people are uncharacteristic and uncommon, but they have occurred, Pugh said.

He said a black bear grabbed a 5-month-old infant off a porch in Sullivan County, N.Y., and ran off with it. The animal dropped the infant when it was chased, but by then the baby was dead, he said.

Sullivan County borders Pike County in northern Pennsylvania, he said.

Pugh also said a Fulton County man was mauled by a black bear he kept in a pen at his home. The bear was born domestically and the man had a license to keep it.

The bear was destroyed and tested negative for rabies, he said.

Bears, like any wild animal, are unpredictable, Pugh said.

Roy Cline, a teacher at Central Fulton High School, lives in Harrisonville in rural northwest Fulton County. He said he's seen 14 black bears around his home so far this year. A bear hunter, Cline believes he's never seen the same bear twice. His count includes several sows with twin cubs, he said.

"Once, I saw four bears in my yard at the same time," he said.

He said he saw his first bear in 1978, then only a couple more over the next 20 years. They started to show up in numbers in 2000. He saw seven that year and 10 in 2001.

Cline, an amateur wildlife photographer, has taken numerous photos of bears in his neighborhood.

He and some companions shot black bears on a hunting trip in Maine earlier this month. He said he plans to hunt bear closer to home this year.

Pennsylvania's three-day bear hunting season runs the three days before Thanksgiving. Baiting and running bears with dogs is prohibited, but the state allows up to 25 people to drive bears toward shooters, said Ray E. Miller, a forest fire specialist in Buchanan State Forest in McConnellsburg.

Statewide, 3,063 bears were killed in the 2001 hunting season, according to Pennsylvania Game Commission records. Clinton and Lycoming counties had the highest numbers with 267 and 242, respectively.

Closer to home, seven were shot by hunters last year in Fulton County and one in Franklin County. Bedford County, which borders Fulton on the west, reported 52 bears killed.

The game commission set up a bear-checking station on Sideling Hill Mountain on U.S. 30 in Fulton County for the first time two years ago. Hunters checked in 52 bears in 2000 and 57 last year.

The numbers are expected to go up as the area's bear population increases, game commission officials said.

More farmland in Fulton County is reverting to forest land, which creates good bear habitat, Pugh said. The general bear population also is increasing, he said.

Pennsylvania's bear population is estimated at around 15,000, Pugh said.

"There are 12 million people in Pennsylvania, so there are going to be some encounters," he said.

Contrary to rumors, the Game Commission is not moving nuisance bears to Fulton County on a wholesale basis, Pugh said. He said two bears that were creating a nuisance in other counties were trapped, hauled to Fulton County and released.

Two bears creating a nuisance in Fulton County were trapped and moved elsewhere, he said.

"It's a two-way street," he said.

Trapped bears are sedated and tagged and their age determined before being hauled to a new location.

Pugh said trial and error has shown the best bait for bear traps is donuts.

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