Bear trapped in Hellam Twp. made appearance at Envirothon, then was relocated

Liz Evans Scolforo
York Dispatch
Pennsylvania Game Commission wardens do testing on a bear they trapped in Hellam Twp. on April 23, 2019. Wardens made a stop at the York County Conservation District's student Envirothon before relocating the bear, officials said.

A young black bear that visited Hellam Township homes in recent weeks to snack on birdseed has now been trapped by Pennsylvania Game Commission wardens because it had graduated to destroying beehives, according to game wardens.

Before relocating the bear to Perry County, Warden Justin Ritter — who had been called away from the York County Envirothon at John C. Rudy County Park to pick up the trapped bear on Tuesday, April 23 — first drove it back to Rudy Park.

Senior high school Envirothon students had a chance to see the bear, still inside its trap, stick its tongue from a ventilation hole and slurp up bottled water being poured by a game warden, according to Kim Young, the county's Envirothon coordinator and also the education and communications director for the York County Conservation District.

But game wardens moved the bear to a quieter area of the park to examine it, which the state game commission refers to as processing, according to Warden Supervisor Bert Einodshofer.

Only game wardens, a few York County park staffers and Young were allowed to be near the bear while it was outside the trap, he said.

"It would have been too stressful for the bear" to have students crowding around it, according to Young, who said it also wasn't a good idea to have children that close to a frightened bear.

Students thrilled: Still, she said, the students were really excited — even if they only got to see the trap and one very large tongue.

"They were thrilled," Young said. "For a lot of these kids, this is what they want to do for a living. ... These kids study conservation topics for fun in their spare time for this competition."

Young said she watched as wardens tranquilized the bear, took a blood sample from it and tagged its ear before driving off with it and releasing it in Perry County, "where they thought it would live a greener life."

The bear was set free in state game lands there, according to Einodshofer.

Young said she was told the wandering bruin is a young male that weighs about 250 pounds.

"The bear was lured into the trap with blueberry muffins — among other delights," she said.

State game wardens, who until recently were called wildlife conservation officers, are a big help with the county's student Envirothon and commit quite a bit of time to helping the students who participate in it, according to Young.

The program is in its 34th year in York County, where students can join as early as the third grade, she said. More than $1 million in scholarships has been awarded to students in the program since 1979, according to the York County Conservation District.

Sharing nature: It's not the first time Warden Ritter took time to give Envirothon students a chance to see nature up close, even when the outcome was less than perfect.

Young said Ritter was working with students at a study session last month at Nixon County Park when he was called away to collect the carcass of a dead bald eagle. Ritter retrieved the massive raptor and brought it back to the park so the students could observe it and ask questions about what had happened.

Young said Envirothon students' interactions with game wardens are invaluable.

"It’s perfect for these kids to get a real feel" for what a wildlife protection or management career might be like, she said. "It was a great thing all around."

One Hellam Township family was able to take photos and video of the bear as they watched him munch on birdseed in their front yard.

More:Hellam Twp. family watches and films as black bear snacks on birdseed

The Holland family shared those images with The York Dispatch and also shared their excitement and apprehension at having an apex predator so close to their home.

For more information about living with black bears, visit the state game commission's website.

Black bear attacks in this state are extremely rare, according to the game commission.

For more information about the York County Envirothon, visit www.yorkccd.org/education/envirothon.

— Reach Liz Evans Scolforo at levans@yorkdispatch.com or on Twitter at @LizScolforoYD.