This time of year, young male black bears are roaming and often stumbling into what is considered non-traditional bear range, including urbanized areas and suburbs.
A black bear sighting in an urban area, even in metro Atlanta, is not altogether unusual, especially during the springtime. That’s because during the spring and summer, young male bears on their own for the first time are experiencing territorial competition with other adult male bears.
Adult males typically force these young males out of familiar territory and what is considered traditional bear range. As a result, young males continue to roam as they try to establish their own territory, which sometimes temporarily leads them into neighborhoods or other more heavily populated urban areas.
In an effort to curb the instinctive alarm that residents in these areas may experience when a bear is sighted, wildlife biologists with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources’ Wildlife Resources Division, want to inform residents of the increased possibility of black bear sightings this spring and summer and educate them on how best to respond.
“If a black bear is sighted passing through an area, the best thing to do is to leave it alone,” says Wildlife Biologist Adam Hammond. “Residents should never approach a bear and never, under any circumstances, feed a bear. Even worse, attempting to ‘tree’ or corner a bear in a certain area often compromises both the safety and welfare of the public and the bear.”
If left alone, these young male bears, referred to as ‘transient’ bears, usually make their way back to more traditional bear range – the North Georgia mountains, the Ocmulgee River drainage system in central Georgia, and the Okefenokee Swamp in the southeastern part of the state.
Increased reports of bears sightings from residents in North Georgia indicates that the bear population in this area is healthy and may be experiencing range expansion.
According to Hammond, unless there is evidence of aggressive behavior, or if a bear is continually getting into garbage or other non-natural food sources (i.e. birdseed, compost piles, grills and pet food), there is no real cause for alarm.
While there is no way to prevent a young male bear from wandering into a neighborhood, there are a few steps people can take to prevent a bear from taking up residence:
- Never, under any circumstances, feed a bear. Such activity is unlawful.
- Keep items, such as grills, pet food or bird feeders off-limits to bears. Clean and store grills when not in use. Keep pet food indoors and take bird feeders down if bears are in the area.
- Convert to ‘bear-proof’ garbage containers, or store garbage in the garage or other enclosed area until pick-up day.
Properly securing food and garbage prevents bears from accessing non-natural, human-provided food sources and thereby, helps avoid the unhealthy process of habituation, which occurs when bears easily obtain food sources from humans, begin associating humans with food and as a result, lose their innate fear of people.
The black bear is a treasured symbol of Georgia’s natural diversity. Now considered the most common bear in North America and the only bear found in Georgia, at one point the species was nearly eradicated from the state due to poaching and habitat loss. Yet, because of sound wildlife management practices, Georgia’s current black bear population is healthy and thriving and is estimated between 2,300 and 2,500 bears statewide.
For more information regarding black bears, visit www.georgiawildlife.com or contact a Wildlife Resources Division Game Management office. The public also can visit their local library to check out a copy of an informational DVD entitled, “Where Bears Belong: Black Bears in Georgia.”
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