Study shows Pennsylvania bears like to put down roots
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Those bears living in the burbs? They're not who we thought they were.
An urban bear study recently completed by the Pennsylvania Game Commission found that adult bears not only move into urban and suburban areas, but they increasingly stay long-term.
Mark Ternent, the agency's bear biologist, said the agency followed bears that had been outfitted with radio and GPS collars between the spring of 2010 and the spring of 2013. Thousands of data points showing where the bears were at certain times were collected.
The goal was to see if bears living in urban areas were susceptible to harvest.
That's critical to know, he said, because as Pennsylvania's bear population has grown — from about 7,000 animals in the mid-1980s to about 18,000 today — nuisance complaints and conflicts between bears and people also have increased. The commission has extended bear seasons in places to address that.
But whether those seasons might work — whether hunters could really get to bears in areas with lots of people — was unknown, as no one had studied the issue, he said.
Seventy-eight bears were captured in three urban settings: Johnstown, State College and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. A number of interesting things were discovered, Ternent said. Chief among them is there a lot of bears living in urban and suburban areas, many more of them adults than expected, he noted
In years past, bears in urban areas were thought to be young males looking for a home range to call their own after being kicked out by their mother for the first time, he said.
“We were a bit surprised by the number of adult bears,” Ternent said.
Many of those bears have short life spans. Forty-seven percent of collared urban bears were dead within three years, he said. Twenty-three of the 37 that died were taken by hunters. Nine were killed by vehicles.
That showed two things, he said. First, bears living in urban areas are four times as likely to die after being hit by a car as are their rural cousins.
Second, and more importantly from the commission's point of view, hunters can be effective in controlling nuisance bear populations, he said. Adult male bears in particular were “as likely to be shot by a hunter in Scranton as they were to be shot by a hunter in Potter County.”
“This was a result that we did not necessarily expect,” Ternent said.
Bob Frye is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @bobfryeoutdoors.
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