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Not all bears are bad news

July 08, 2007|By BILL ANDERSON

If you have been watching the evening news on the Washington area TV stations recently, you may have caught the latest on the black bear mini-invasion into Montgomery County, Maryland, and Loudon County, Virginia.

A sea of townhomes is not exactly a typical black bear habitat.

Most of the people living in those areas pay a lot of money for a certain kind of living environment. Most seem kind of put out that a large, hairy meat eater may be passing them on the way to the playground.

This is the time of year when young male bears are on the move in an effort to establish new territories. While passing through, they may stop to eat from an enticing garbage can or steal a dog's food - or make a dog or cat the main course, in rare cases.

The bear outbreak that has the big-city media so excited is actually a result of some really good news from a wildlife-management perspective. Black bear populations are on the increase in Maryland and surrounding states. The bears are expanding their range, and, at times, they will end up in places where they do not belong. In most cases, they will move on through heavily populated areas to find more suitable habitat. In other cases, they will be trapped and moved to suitable areas or killed when crossing busy highways.

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In our area, bears are not common, but there are a few around. They are often sighted by fishermen and canoeists on the Potomac. Black bears are far more common in Garrett County, particularly in the area of Deep Creek Lake State Park, where they can be major pests at times. And bears have been destroyed for showing aggressive behavior.

Most people who come in contact with bears seem to feel an excitement that is unique to being in the same area with a large animal that is completely capable of being dangerous. The goods news is that aggressive behavior in eastern black bears is very rare, and most bears will beat it out of the area as soon as they see or smell a human.

The other side of the story are the bears that have had a lot of exposure to people and have had positive people experiences, usually with getting food. They either steal the food, or worse, they are rewarded by scaring off the people and then eating the goodies. Bears who do not fear people are the ones that are potential problems.

If you are lucky enough to have a bear in your area, you will do the animal a huge favor by removing all food sources, such as garbage, pet food and bird feeders. Hopefully the animal will move back into the woods to make a living the way bears are supposed to.

I know of at least two cases in which folks tried to keep bears in the area to observe and photograph them by putting food out. They probably have some good photos, but they were doing the animals more harm than they realized. One bear became so bold that he had to be destroyed by West Virginia DNR officers. The other was killed on the highway making his rounds from one backyard feeding station to another.

Bill Anderson writes a weekly outdoors column for The Herald-Mail.

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