Years ago when we camped in Pennsylvania, it wasn’t uncommon to hear the rattling of garbage cans in the campgrounds. That was before they installed dumpsters that were bear proof. Sometimes we’d even spot one in the evening, but not often since bears are rather shy and usually afraid of people. Pennsylvania has a large population of black bears unlike Ohio where none were ever sighted. That is until recently.
Once when my family was camping in the Great Smoky Mountains, we became well aware of black bears. We had two pop-up campers that year; my parents and youngest brother and a couple of sisters in one, and my husband and I with our two young sons in the other. My two little daughters were in the back of the station wagon backed up to the side of the camper my husband and I were sleeping in with the window cracked slightly so we could hear them if they woke up. While sitting around the campfire before going to bed, we could track the route of a bear that was visiting the campgrounds from the banging of pots and pans by other campers to frighten them away. As the pan banging got closer, we got out our pans and it wasn’t long before we saw a bear. It moved on when we created a cacophony of noise by banging our pans.
We were asleep when we heard the large wooden camp box my husband had made come crashing off the picnic table. Armed only with a flashlight, Jim and I went out to rescue the camp box holding much of our food. The bear took off and then turned around and watched us as we carried the large wooden box to the back of our station wagon. I was in the back wearing a skimpy little nightgown and could imagine the bear grabbing me from behind. We stored the camp box beside our sleeping daughters, safe in the station wagon and went back to bed. In the morning, my three year old daughter Susan said a bear was trying to get in. I thought she was dreaming until I saw the bear’s paw prints all over the back window. Mary, only two at the time, claims she had nightmares for years about that bear.
I didn’t see many if any bears after that until my sister Elaine and I started backpacking about fifteen years ago with assorted siblings or nieces and nephews on the Appalachian Trail in Shenandoah National Park which has more black bears per acre than anywhere else in the eastern United States. Then it wasn’t too unusual to spy them once in a while, but they never came close, and we were smart enough to take necessary precautions and never leave anything out that would attract them when we went to bed. Everything was hung high in a bear bag and not close to a tree trunk so they couldn’t reach it that way, either. Once I was crossing a parking lot to get my car to move it when a female bear with two cubs wandered across the parking lot. I stood and watched them with some other people until they disappeared into the woods. We were all delighted to see them.
Gradually, over the last ten years or less single young bears would be spotted in Ohio rather close to the Pennsylvania border. These were young teen-aged bears looking for a new area to settle in as Pennsylvania’s bear population was both expanding and running out of places for them to settle because of people taking over their natural habitat. I live about twenty to twenty-five miles from the border, so although I’d read about these exploring bears, they weren’t very close. And then there came reports of black bears working their way further west even much further west than my county.
So I started looking for bears on my morning walks in the woods and actually hoped I’d see one, but the summers passed with no sightings. However, the summer before last I heard a deep huffing sound in the woods just beyond my woods. My dog, Maggie, erupted in a frenzy of ferocious barking. Well, since her previous owner had her muted, it wasn’t as scary as the barking of most dogs, but it was enough to scare the bear away. Even though we didn’t see it through the underbrush, I was sure that’s what it was. I was proved right the following day, when my daughter-in-law Pam, her granddaughter and a customer of the business Pam has in part of their barn (The Shabby Cedar Barn) were standing outside when a bear walked around the barn slowly, meandered over to the play house beside the woods, and then moved on into the woods. I saw further proof of the bear a few days later when I went to pick more blueberries from my patch and there wasn’t one left, not even the unripened ones.
This summer there weren’t any signs of another bear except one morning when my dog erupted into a frenzy of barking again shortly after we entered the woods. After looking and seeing nothing, I continued walking with Maggie following. She seemed to be nervous and kept looking in the direction she’d been barking. It wasn’t until we turned to go deeper into the woods that she relaxed and did her normal little exploratory jaunts checking out new smells.
But I’m sure they will be back if not this year then next because black bears have lost over 60% of their historical range. As human encroachment increases, preserving large areas of undeveloped land where bears and other animals can thrive is crucial. I don’t expect them to settle on my property or any place close because they need rock crevices, hollow trees or dense vegetation and travel corridors with sufficient cover for protection from poachers, harassment and other dangers associated from human development. When that time comes I’ll take the necessary steps to keep them from becoming a nuisance: put away the bird feeders until winter, not keep animal feed out to attract them, keep everything securely put away that might attract them. When walking in the woods I’ll talk or sing to let any bears that might be out there know I’m in the woods. A bear that’s startled may feel cornered.
|Not s smart thing to do. Even friendly bears can cause harm while playing.|
Some black bear facts:
· They eat mostly berries, nuts, grasses, carrion, and insect larvae.
· They have color vision and a keen sense of smell.
· They are good tree climbers and swimmers.
· They are very intelligent and curious.
· They can run up to 35 miles per hour.
· They weigh an average of 125 to 600 pounds.
· They go without food for up to 7 months during hibernation in northern ranges.
· They usually give birth to 2 to 3 cubs during the mother’s sleep every other year.
· They can live over 25 years in the wild (average age in the wild is 18).
· They are typically shy and easily frightened.
What bear tales do you have to tell?
Have you ever seen a bear in the wild?