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South Williamsport, PA
United States

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Pennsylvania’s Black Bears

I’ve always been somewhat fascinated by the fact that black bears roam our state’s forests and fields and I’m sure a lot of others share that idea. It’s intriguing to know that there is still a creature, in our backyards, that’s so big and powerful that it could easily take down an unarmed man if

I’ve always been somewhat fascinated by the fact that black bears roam our state’s forests and fields and I’m sure a lot of others share that idea. It’s intriguing to know that there is still a creature, in our backyards, that’s so big and powerful that it could easily take down an unarmed man if it were so inclined; fortunately, that’s not part of their usual behavior. Although we have ample wooded areas, we are hardly considered a vast wilderness, and that scenario seems to bode well with our state’s black bear population.

In spite of some of the largest bear harvests of any of the lower forty-eight states, Pennsylvania’s bear population has continued to grow over the years. Hardly a year goes by without my wife, me, or some other family members telling of a recent bear sighting in the neighborhood. Other friends and neighbors often relate stories of their sightings as well. Just last month I hit my brakes to avoid hitting a large black bear that I estimated to be in the 500-pound category. The bear ended up strolling between one of my neighbor’s house and barn before heading back to from where it had come. Earlier that summer, my wife told me one ran across the road in front of her not far from where I had the close call. That same month a mother bear and her cub had an encounter with my son’s dog on the front porch; he got the whole thing on his surveillance camera. A couple of weeks ago, my wife and I were working in the front yard when a truck pulled up and told us that three bears had just crossed the road a short distance from where we were working; I guess we were too engrossed in our work and we didn’t see them.

To give you some idea of how our bears are doing, take a look at these numbers. In the 70s there were an estimated 4,000 bears in Pennsylvania, and today there are an estimated 18,000 bears in our state. Today, almost three times as many hunters are successful in taking a bear as compared to years ago, and seven of our top harvest counts have occurred since 2005. In spite of these growing statistics, our bear population continues to increase and hunting, in fact, plays an important role in controlling the population.

Of course, with increasing bear numbers comes increasing bear nuisance problems. In the late 1900s, WCOs responded to about 600 complaints annually in the Northeast Region of the state. In 2000 it climbed to 813 complaints and the following year 1,000 complaints were reported. In 2002 the numbers climbed to more than 1100. Many people don’ t bother with a formal complaint, myself included. I’ve had three good birds feeders destroyed. I didn’t call to complain, but I did quit putting up feeders. I may try it again, but I’m going to be very fussy about when and where I hang my feeders.

It won’t be long until hunters will have a chance to go out and initiate some of that much-needed control over the bear population. As I write this piece, the statewide archery season is already in progress — it closed on Nov. 4. The statewide regular firearms season begins Nov. 18 and on Nov. 20-22. There is also an extended season in some units at the end of November — check your Hunting and Trapping Digest or go online if you don’t have a digest for details.

Although I was fortunate enough years ago to take a nice cinnamon phase of a black bear in Montana, I’ve yet to kill a Pennsylvania black bear — I hope I can change that this year.

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