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Young bear spotted in Newberry Twp., expert says it's that time of year

LIZ EVANS SCOLFORO
YorkDispatch

If you see a bear wandering through your yard this summer, it's OK to call police or the Pennsylvania Game Commission. But first, take a moment to enjoy the sighting.

"It's a striking image — bears are large, powerful creatures," game commission Press Secretary Travis Lau said. "If the bear doesn't appear to be causing any harm, maybe you just want to enjoy the opportunity of being able to see it. It may be Pennsylvania's most impressive animal."

Newberry Township residents and a few township employees had just such an opportunity over the past couple days, according to township Police Chief John Snyder.

A small black bear was spotted Monday and Tuesday walking through the township, prompting some people to take photos and others to alert police, he said.

"One of our officers saw it pretty close-up," the chief said. "It's kind of cool."

The bear has not threatened anyone or made a nuisance of itself, according to Snyder.

"He probably got kicked out by his mom," the chief said.

Lau confirmed that's most likely the case.

Breeding season: This is the time of year when sow bears — which are on a two-year breeding cycle — drive away their 18-month-old offspring so they can breed again, he said.

"Those cubs, and the males in particular, disperse to find home ranges," Lau said. "They can travel a long way ... and they wind up going through a lot of neighborhoods and farmland and places that just aren't going to suit them on a permanent basis."

Young female bears tend to stay in the same general home range where they were born, he said, but instinct drives young males to wander. Lau said that instinct helps bears to avoid inbreeding, and also confirmed a dominant "boar" (male) in an area will drive out young upstarts searching for their own turf.

The Pennsylvania Game Commission closely tracks black bears, including those shot and killed by hunters or hit by cars, according to Lau. He said there are an estimated 18,000 bears in this state.

"That's been a fairly steady number for seven years running," he said.

Attacks are rare: Bear attacks on humans in Pennsylvania are rare, according to Lau, who said the "classic example" of an attack can happen if a person gets between a sow and her cubs, even accidentally. Dogs can also trigger bear aggression, he said.

But while the overwhelming majority of human-bear encounters are peaceful, they tend not to be the best suburban neighbors.

"Black bears are awesome animals, but you don't really want them hanging around your home," Lau said. "Even during this time of year ... they are going to be drawn to places they can get easy meals."

Easy ursine meals include seed in bird feeders, pet food left outside and remnants of food left in charcoal and gas grills, he said.

People who don't want their bird feeders destroyed, or who have no interest in seeing a bear up close and personal, can simply take down feeders for the next month or so and take pet food and pets inside.

"But I don't think there's necessarily a need to overreact," Lau said. "You're getting a passing glimpse of an animal that's going to be pretty far away from you pretty soon."

About 10 calls daily: The game commission's southcentral regional headquarters is currently fielding about 10 calls a day from people reporting bear sightings, according to Lau. The commission's southcentral region encompasses York, Adams, Bedford, Blair, Cumberland, Franklin, Fulton, Huntingdon, Juniata, Mifflin, Perry and Snyder counties.

Lau said there are some basic rules people should follow if they have chance encounters with bears in the wild.

"The last thing you want to do is run," he said. "The bear is a lot faster than you," and fleeing from it could trigger it to pursue you.

Also, don't climb a tree if you see a bear in the wild.

A sow bear will hear you coming long before you know she's there, and she'll send her cubs into hiding — which often means having them climb into trees, according to Lau.

"If you go up a tree, in her mind you're going after her cubs," he said.

Also, if a bear starts to walk toward you, back away calmly and avoid making eye contact, he advised.

And if you hear a bear popping its jaw or making a "whoofing" noise, "that's your signal to get out of there," Lau said. Just don't turn your back and run.

Black bears trying to scare away humans have also been known to make "bluff charges," he said.

The game commission doesn't respond to every reported bear sighting, but it does take note of them, according to Lau.

"When we're aware of bears on the move, we try to keep tabs on them," he said.

Wildlife conservation officers will occasionally try to trap and relocate bears, Lau said, but that's usually only done after it's clear the bear isn't leaving the area on its own.

— Reach Liz Evans Scolforo at levans@yorkdispatch.com.