Too Many Bears

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A few years ago this bear regularly snooped around the edges of the east side of Warren, PA, and quickly learned that bird feeders provide easy pickings. Often a city bear’s next moves are to eat from Fido’s dish and get into household garbage. (Photo courtesy of Rick Pedersen.)
A few years ago this bear regularly snooped around the edges of the east side of Warren, PA, and quickly learned that bird feeders provide easy pickings. Often a city bear’s next moves are to eat from Fido’s dish and get into household garbage. (Photo courtesy of Rick Pedersen.)

Contributing Writer
Steve Sorensen

A black bear shows up in your yard. What do you do?

Keep the dog inside? Try to shoo it away? Call the game warden?

You should just grab your camera, because the game warden probably can’t come. “But,” you say, “Isn’t it his job to handle all things wildlife?” No. If that were true, he’d never sleep. Game wardens have plenty to do, and trapping nuisance bears isn’t as easy as many people think. Bears often travel miles in a day, and trapping them can be largely a matter of luck.

Today, black bear populations are growing, and that means more and more problem bears. What’s a problem bear? Many problem bears are animals that are habituated to people. They’ve been fed, and are looking for more. Once a bear learns he can get free handouts, he wants more free handouts. He will confidently but unpredictably interact with people, and sometimes he won’t go away. He can become dangerous. After all, in his world he’s the biggest life form, so he’s not easily intimidated.

One of these, a big one, walked up to me several years ago during deer season in New York’s Allegheny State Park. For five minutes he loitered within seven feet of me, probably hoping for toasted marshmallows, s’mores, or hot dogs — the things he associated with people in the park’s camping areas. I found a couple of sticks to throw at him, and he wandered away disappointed, stopping to stare back at me every few steps.

Another problem bear is a diseased bear, and we’re seeing more and more of those. Sarcoptic mange is becoming an epidemic, affecting not only bears, but coyotes, foxes, and I’ve even seen a woodchuck with it. Mange is caused by a parasitic mite that resides in the host animal’s hair follicles and burrows into the skin. The animal has an allergic reaction to its eggs and its excrement, causing severe itching. He scratches relentlessly. His skin becomes infected. He loses hair, and becomes emaciated and susceptible to other diseases. Some die during winter because they have no fat and their insulating fur is compromised. It’s not a pretty thing.

Sarcoptic mange in bears is becoming more and more common as the population grows. That suggests bears, especially young ones, are stressed. They’ve been booted away by mama, and big boars are aggressive toward them. It’s difficult for them to adopt a home range. The result is that they make home in close proximity to neighborhoods and campgrounds where the livin’ is easy, feeding from restaurant dumpsters, bird feeders, bee hives, farm crops, whatever is available.

Back in the 1990s we had fewer bears. New York had three distinct bear populations, centered in the Catskills, the Adirondacks, and the southern tier into western New York. Now, they have merged into one amorphous group. In Pennsylvania, bear habitat once centered in mountainous big woods areas such as the Allegheny National Forest, but now bears have expanded to farm country where they destroy huge amounts of corn and other crops. Bears roam around the edges of some small towns almost every night, looking for scraps of food.

With problems bear being more common, it’s clear we have too many bears. What’s the solution? The solution is for hunters to kill the excess. People who don’t understand the problem won’t like the solution and even oppose bear hunting altogether, but we have no better tool for bear management than hunters. So, if we expand the hunting opportunities, the problem will diminish.

Harsh? Not really. We want enough bears for people to enjoy watching, but not too many so that they overwhelm their food base, or that their health is at risk, or that their conflict with people becomes intolerable. It’s a balancing act.

We manage deer that way, perhaps not perfectly but very successfully. Why not bears? Expanding bear hunting opportunities is the right step to reducing bear problems — and it will be good for the bears.

When “The Everyday Hunter” isn’t hunting, he’s thinking about hunting, talking about hunting, dreaming about hunting, writing about hunting, or wishing he were hunting. If you want to tell Steve exactly where your favorite hunting spot is, contact him through his website, www.EverydayHunter.com. He writes for top outdoor magazines, and won the 2015 and 2018 national “Pinnacle Award” for outdoor writing.

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Steve Sorensen
Steve Sorensen of Russell, PA is an award-winning outdoor writer whose column, The Everyday Hunter®, offers hunting tips, strategies, and insights on how to think about hunting. His byline has appeared in the nation’s top hunting magazines including Outdoor Life, Sports Afield, Deer & Deer Hunting, Pennsylvania Game News, Fur-Fish-Game, North American Whitetail, Bear Hunting Magazine and more. He contributes regular website content to Legendary Whitetails and Havalon Knives and is a field editor for Deer Hunters Online. Steve is also in demand as an event speaker, presenting programs on do-it-yourself Alaska moose hunting, whitetail deer, wild turkeys, and eastern coyotes, with new programs coming. E-mail him at EverydayHunter@gmail.com to invite him to speak at your next sportsmen’s dinner (or to tell him where your best hunting spot is).