News Column

Across the United States, Black Bears Moving In

July 15, 2014

By Marty Roney, USA TODAY

Black bear sightings have been on the rise as the population increases. (photo: Creative Commons)
Black bear sightings have been on the rise as the population increases. (photo: Creative Commons)

Daniel Powell's e-mail inbox has been lighting up recently with people contacting him about black bears.

Powell is director of the Alabama Black Bear Alliance. In Alabama and throughout the nation, black bear sightings have been on the rise as the population increases and the bruins move where they haven't been for generations.

"Bears travel this time of year," Powell said. "Mature males are out looking for receptive females. And mamma bears have driven off juvenile males, and the young males are looking for their own territory.

Alabama has native bear populations in its southwestern and northeastern corners. But in the past two to three years sightings have come in from other areas, said Keith Gauldin, assistant wildlife chief for the Alabama Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries.

Shifts in public opinion about black bears are key to the population boom, said Lynn Rogers of the North American Bear Center in Ely, Minn.

An estimated 950,000 black bears are in the USA today, almost double the 450,000 in the early 20th century, Rogers said.

"People no longer look on bears as vermin to be exterminated," he said. "We have taught people what it takes to live with bears, so there is a more accepting attitude now from, say, 30 or 40 years ago."

Black bear awareness was a hot topic recently in Illinois, after a single black bear made 300-mile jaunt through northern Illinois from late May to the end of June. Illinois has no native black bears, so the animal was likely a visitor from Wisconsin, said Chris Young, spokesman for the state's Department of Natural Resources.

"We used it as a teachable moment to educate the public about black bears," he said.

And bears are thriving even in areas that many would not consider to be bear territory.

Massachusetts had about 100 bears in the 1970s; it now has 4,000, said Laura Conlee, black bear project leader for the state's Division of Fisheries and Wildlife. The state has a 35-day bear hunting season.

"The bear population is steadily moving eastward," she said. "Each year we have reports of male bears wandering into the Boston suburbs."

Marty Roney also reports for The Montgomery Advertiser

Source: Copyright 2014 USA TODAY

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