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Bears visit in S. Buffalo

| Thursday, April 5, 2007

Charles and June Baum normally welcome wildlife to their home along Freeport Road.

But when four bears sauntered out of the woods Sunday for an afternoon snack, the Baums decided it was time to be more selective about their guests.

A mother bear and her three yearling cubs prowled around Baum's house for more than an hour, mangling one of June Baum's bird feeders and terrifying Moochie, her tortoiseshell cat.

Baum and her husband stood just a few feet from the bears and took photographs from inside of their glass-walled sun room.

"She was so bold," Baum said of the mother bear. "She wasn't afraid of us at all."

Warm spring weather signals mother bears to send away their yearling offspring to make way for a fresh batch of cubs, said Beth Fife, a wildlife conservation officer for the Pennsylvania Game Commission.

Until the wandering yearlings settle into their new life, they raid porches and backyards for easy snacks -- untended garbage cans, bags of pet food and bird feeders.

"They're without mom for the first time, and they're trying to figure out what to do," Fife said. "They're lazy opportunists just wandering around looking for free food."

Baum used to keep a garbage can full of bird seed on her back porch. The night before the bears appeared, something -- maybe a bear -- upset the can.

The following afternoon, the bears arrived to help Baum clean up, she said.

Now, Baum plans to keep the bird seed inside.

Still, she expects the bears to return. Every spring for the past three years, bears have visited her wooded backyard. Last July, a huge, 300-pound male made his way to her back porch.

"If you live out in the country, you expect to see things like this," Baum said.

Early Wednesday morning, David Brooke of Harrison spotted a small black bear standing on its hind legs and swatting at a bird feeder in the backyard of his home along Oakwood Place in Natrona Heights.

Eventually, the bear grabbed the metal pole supporting the bird feeder and bent it to the ground.

"He didn't seem to care too much about what I was doing, so I snapped some pictures," Brooke said.

Like the Baums, Brooke said he doesn't mind the occasional wild visitor, but bears push the limit. He won't be repairing his bird feeder this year.

"We see turkeys, we see deer, but this is the first time we've ever seen a bear," he said. "We're not going to encourage him to come back."

Brooke's bear may well be one of the bears who menaced Moochie at Baum's residence, said Mel Schake, game commission supervisor for the Southwest region. Brooke's home and Baum's home are about eight miles apart.

Each adult bear has a territory of about 25 square miles, Schake said. A mother with cubs, however, is restricted to about a five square mile area, making her more likely to return to easy food sources.

"She'll become accustomed to getting handouts, garbage or bird feeders or whatever," he said. "You just have to look for those things that may attract wildlife close to your home."

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