Spring has arrived but so is the brush fire season. We've already had a few skirmishes in the area. If we don not have significant rain soon, the situation will get dire.
Rich Meintel, a forest fire specialist supervisor with DCR, and I had a pleasant chat a while ago. When the brush fire was raging at the Horseshoe Curve a few weeks ago, Meintel told me that a black bear came running along, attempting to find a place to find refuge from the fire. When he spotted a bunch of firefighters, he stopped short and then - as no doubt his mother taught him to do when confronted with a threat - he clambered up a nearby tree.
I'm sure the frightened animal didn't know which was the worse risk, the fire or the firefighters. So he stayed up the tree, often balancing precariously on a very thin limb according to Meintel.
"We just kept an eye on the bear that probably weighed about 150 pounds," Meintel explained. " I told the other fellows that the bear was not aiming to hurt any of us, he was just seeking a safe place from the fire. If he comes down from the tree, don't get excited, he'll run away. He has no desire to tangle with us."
Sure enough, after a lengthy time, he did venture down and run on. It is indeed a bear's instinct and training to run up a tree when confronted with what it sees as any threat. A bear feels safe in a tree because rarely is any threat going to come up a tree after it. If only folks, who get nearly hysterical when they see a bear anywhere near town, would know this, we wouldn't have all the "bear incidents" that make the news.
When summer comes, a bear's 2-year-old cubs are coldly chased away from the sow's presence. She is ready to breed again, to bear more cubs, and so the young bear suddenly finds himself homeless so he starts roaming around looking for a new place to settle. That quest often takes him within the bounds of civilization where people inevitably spot him. If you see a bear, just stand still and enjoy the sight.
But very often these sightings become tourist events. Folks begin to yell for others to come see the bear, a crowd gathers quickly, the bear becomes confused and frightened and climbs a nearby tree or even a telephone pole, where he feels safe and intends to stay until the ruckus calms down.
Sometimes folks foolishly, in an attempt to get the bear away from their house, toss rocks or branches at the bear, and when it runs down the tree and darts around looking for an escape route, folks decide it is chasing them, looking for someone to eat and then the whole thing gets out of hand. By the time the Game Commission arrives with their tranquilizing gear, the whole thing resembles a circus.
This week I had the opportunity to talk with one of our local wildlife conservation officers. He just rolled his eyes when I asked about bears.
"There have already been three bear incidents near Claysburg with bears that were grabbing garbage around houses so they had to be trapped out and relocated," the WCO said. "It's going to be a bad year for bear complaints and people need to start now putting garbage in locking containers and cleaning up bird feeders so bears are not attracted, too. Also, we investigated two winter dens and found a sow with five cubs in one and a sow with four cubs in the other."
The official harvest for the black bear season last winter was a record - the highest harvest numbers ever in Pennsylvania - 4300 animals. There were a dozen bears taken that weighed more than 700 pounds. Pennsylvania maintains its distinction of having the largest black bears in the nation.
All the WCO's and deputies are geared for a very busy season of bear damage complaints. Every landowner can help much in preventing all these incidents by making sure there is nothing at their buildings or barns that draws the keen-nosed bears.