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Black bear populations on the rise

June 26, 2007|By KAREN HANNA

TRI-STATE - Humans who leave food outside create a golden opportunity for bears looking for just-right territory and new mates, according to wildlife officials in three states.

"We've had more black bear complaints this year than other years," said Allan Niederberger, assistant district biologist for the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources.

Just a few weeks after two incidents involving bears at the Veterans Affairs Medical center in Martinsburg, W.Va., Niederberger and officials in Maryland and Pennsylvania said bear populations in the states are growing. They suggested that people bring food, including bird feeders and pet kibble, inside at night, and take garbage out during the day.

"They have gotten into bird feeders and barbecue grills, but once the public is educated about how to deal with bears, that really isn't a problem anymore," said Barry Leonard, a wildlife conservation officer for the Pennsylvania Game Commission.

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In Maryland, wildlife officials use molasses to bait bears into areas where barbed wire snags a bit of fur to use for genetic analysis, said Department of Natural Resources black bear project leader Harry Spiker.

Data from the DNA project, recorded bear mortalities and efforts to outfit adult female bears, or sows, with radio collars all point to one conclusion: The state's bear population is growing.

Spiker said Western Maryland, where the average sow rears three cubs at a time, provides some of the country's best habitat for bears.

Jerry Feaser, press secretary for the Pennsylvania Game Commission, and Niederberger said the bear populations in the counties closest to the Maryland border are small.

Six bears were killed during the last hunting season in Berkeley, Morgan and Jefferson counties, Niederberger said. Hunters killed 21 bears in Franklin and Fulton counties in 2006, according to Feaser.

Spiker said sows have cubs every two years, with the oldest cubs being forced to find new territories as their mothers turn their attention to the young ones. Bears looking for mates also can travel long distances and get in trouble.

Spiker said people who see bears should treat the animals as if they were unfamiliar dogs. He advised people should not run from bears or stare them down, but instead make noise and try to appear bigger than life.

Most times, the bear will turn and run, said Spiker, who like other officials said people need to know feeding bears will only cause problems.

"It's best to keep wild animals wild," Spiker said.




Tracking bears



People who see bears with cubs can help the Maryland Department of Natural Resources track the bear population by calling 301-842-2702.

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