Each year the likelihood of bear sightings throughout the state, even in urbanized areas and suburbs, increases. Whether it’s a young male bear roaming across 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 often perceived as a threat or nuisance,” says Wildlife Resources Division Assistant Game Management Chief John W. 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 also are known to roam larger areas in an effort to establish their own territory.
Black bears are omnivorous and opportunistic, and their diet consists of whatever food is readily available at any given time of year. Black bears may be attracted to the scents of human food, pet food, birdseed, beehives and even compost piles. When bears can easily obtain such foods, they begin to associate humans with food and as a result, lose their innate fear of people. Wildlife biologists with the Wildlife Resources Division encourage residents to heed the following tips in an effort to minimize bear conflicts 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.
“All residents, especially those in known bear areas, are encouraged to be responsible and help prevent conflicts by making non-natural, human-provided ‘foods’ unavailable to bears,” says Bowers.
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 to be about 5,100 bears statewide.
For more information regarding black bears, visit www.georgiawildlife.com, contact a Wildlife Resources Division Game Management office or call (770) 918-6416. 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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