Bears a fascinating part of state’s landscape


I remember vividly back in the late 1970s that a huge concern was that there were not too many black bears in the state.

In fact I remember the year when bear season was canceled because of the concern that we could not allow a bear harvest because there were not enough sustainable animals to support a harvest.

The alarm today, however, is that the Game Commission is looking for ways to boost the harvest of bears because there are too many bears in the state.

No matter what you may think of Dr. Gary Alt and his handling of the deer program in the state, it is thanks to his research and programs instituted back in the 1970s and 1980s that has resulted in more bears than the wildlife professionals think is good for Pennsylvania. They are examining ways to up the harvest.

So look for seasons to perhaps be expanded, the number of hunting licenses offered to be increased.

Too many bears for the habitat will also cause human/bear conflicts. Black bears are not Grizzlies. They are not usually aggressive. But last fall we had the first real instance of a citizen being attacked by a bear and badly wounded. So we worry about that.

As I understand it, a woman was walking her dog in a rural area. The dog spotted a bear near the home and ran toward it barking. The woman chased after her pet, hoping to rescue it from the bear. The bear interpreted all this as a threat to her nearby cubs and attacked the woman, who was seriously wounded. The last report is that she is recovering from her wounds.

Most people seem to think of bears in one of two categories: Grizzlies or Teddy Bears. They are neither. They are wild animals trying to cope with human intrusion and house building in what they think of as “their” territory.

Bears do not lurk in the woods looking for a human to eat. If you do not threaten their cubs or their food supply, they prefer to let you alone. Bears have extremely good scenting ability and usually one whiff of human scent and they run away.

There is no need to panic if a bear is spotted in the woods. Just stop and enjoy the sight. DO NOT EVER TRY TO RUN FROM A BEAR! They can run much faster than any hunter and will overtake you quickly. In fact, a bear that spots a human running will be inspired to chase it, thinking it to be a prey animal that is trying to escape.

But often humans do really foolish and dangerous things around bears. I know of many cases of people trying to entice bears to eat marshmallows out of their hand so they can get photos. People gather at dumps and similar places to observe bears gathered to forage for food. Again, they try to get close to get photos and that makes bears nervous.

I have personally had many encounters in the woods with black bears. I once had one decide to come and sit down against the trunk of a small apple tree in which I was sitting with my bow and arrow. I sat still for over 3 hours until it decided to leave. I admit it was nerve-wracking. Trying to decide exactly what I would do if the bear decided to climb up into the tree I was in kept me alert.

Two years ago in spring gobbler season, I saw the largest bear I’ve ever seen in the woods. I caught a glimpse of movement about 75 yards off to my left so I looked. It was not a gobbler but the big bruin. He padded slowly along, passed me by at 75 yards then took a right turn and walked the width of that ridge, stopped suddenly (I thought at the time he had just scented me) swung his head in every direction, looking intently, then turned around and went back the same way he had come. He was a bruiser. Yet he probably hadn’t been out of hibernation for too long so I wondered just how big he would get before summer was over.

I’ve had bears run by me in deer season, chased out I’m sure by other deer hunters, at less than 20 yards. I simply stood stock still and let them run by.

If you live in rural areas it is vital to understand that anything you let outside will eventually be raided by a bear. Bird feeders are one of their favorite targets. Dog dishes are another. A grill, used to cook last night’s steaks, but left outside for the night may well be torn apart by a raiding bear.

Think about what happens when a young, confused bear wanders into a town. Everybody gets excited and soon a crowd is “chasing” the bear from place to place. The bear panics and runs up a telephone pole or a big tree in someone’s yard.

If the crowd would disperse and let the bear alone, it would soon relax and climb down and get out of town. But as long as humans chase, yell or try to lasso the bear or feed it cupcakes, there will be a possibility of trouble.

So if you spend time in the woods this year, chances are good you will cross paths with one or more of the 20,000 bears estimated to live in Pennsylvania.