Monday, April 6, 2009

Black Bear Sightings a Reality this Spring in Georgia

Each spring and summer the likelihood of bear sightings throughout the state, even in urbanized areas and suburbs, increases.

Whether it’s a young male bear roaming across non-traditional bear range into the metro Atlanta area or a hungry bear sifting through a North Georgia campsite for an easy meal, the possibility exists and residents should be aware.

“A black bear sighting is something that few people ever forget – especially when it is in your backyard. Human populations have grown and expanded into areas traditionally inhabited by bears and when conflicts arise the bear is perceived as a threat or nuisance,” says Wildlife Resources Division Assistant Game Management Chief John W. Bowers.

“All residents, especially those in known bear areas, are encouraged to educate themselves about bears and bear behavior, be responsible and help prevent conflicts from occurring,” says Bowers.

Black bears most commonly are found in three areas of the state - the north Georgia mountains, the Ocmuglee River drainage system in central Georgia and the Okefenokee Swamp in the southeastern part of the state. However, black bears can and do range over larger areas; especially in early spring and late summer, when activity patterns increase. Young male bears are also known to roam larger areas in an effort to establish their own territory.

Because black bears are omnivorous, their diet consists of whatever food is readily available at any given time of year. Thus, black bears are reasonably attracted to the scents of human food, pet food, birdseed, beehives and even compost piles. When bears can easily obtain such food sources, they begin to associate humans with food and as a result, lose their innate fear of humans. Wildlife biologists with the Wildlife Resources Division encourage residents to heed the following tips in an effort to minimize bear attractants and lessen the chance of wild bears becoming habituated to people:

- 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.

- Make sure trashcans are bear-proof or kept indoors.

- When camping or picnicking, keep your site clean. Never leave food or coolers unattended. Never keep food in or near your tent. Store food in properly sealed containers and whenever possible, store these containers in a vehicle. If camping in backcountry areas, hang packs or food bags at least ten feet off the ground and at least four feet from the trunk of a tree.

“The Division receives numerous calls each year regarding bear sightings and requests for bear relocation,” says Bowers. “Relocation is seldom a solution. For example, relocated bears often attempt to return to the same territory, other bears may move into the vacated area and adult male bears often kill other bears, especially young males, when relocated into new territory. Therefore, relocation is rarely utilized.”

Residents initially should take the actions previously described to resolve nuisance bear problems. Most often, if residents remove the attractant, the bear will move on and will not return. However, if the bear persists for several days, residents should feel free to contact the nearest Wildlife Resources Division Game Management office.

Though the American black bear (Ursus americanus) is 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.

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