In recent years, for the first time since 1850 when unregulated hunting and deforestation changed the ecology of the region, Ohioans have been spotting a large animal lumbering through the area with some frequency: the American black bear.
Although a few rare reports persisted throughout the years since the mid-1800’s, the American black bear has largely been considered extirpated, or rooted out, from Ohio. Earlier this year, however, reports came in about a bear sighting in Twinsburg. According to Ohio Department of Natural Resources’ (ODNR) wildlife research technician for district three, Laurie Graber, this one bear is far from an isolated event. District three in the ODNR Division of Wildlife covers the counties in Northeast Ohio, which include Portage, Summit and Geauga counties.
“In the 19 counties that we cover, I’m up to a hundred sightings at this point,” Graber said. “Only about 30 of them have been confirmed, and a lot of those sightings have been of the same bear, but there are definitely multiples in the 19 counties. At this point it’s hard to tell how many are in the area, at least here in our district, but there could be as many as 15 or 20. We may not be getting reports on them all.” There have been several confirmed sightings in Portage and Geauga counties.
With these large, powerful animals roaming the area, many people are concerned about safety. In Graber’s opinion, “There’s nothing to be concerned about. They are harmless creatures as long as you give them their space and don’t invade them. They’re usually more scared of us than we are of them.” In fact, she said, “Their first instinct is to run as soon as they hear a noise coming.”
If you do think a bear is in your area, Graber suggests you take down bird feeders, keep trash inside until the night of pick-up, keep pet foods inside and clean off grills, grease traps included, when you’re done cooking. Bears are omnivores and will eat anything from meat to seeds and berries.
According to Graber, “The majority of the problem that we have is usually them ripping down bird feeders, which really isn’t that major of a problem.”
With the cold months just around the corner, many would believe anti-bear precautions above would be unnecessary due to the bears’ hibernation, but Graber says this is not true. “They really don’t go into a true hibernation here in the eastern states. They’ll stay active throughout the winter. It is weather dependent; if it gets really, really cold snowing very heavily, they’ll find a place to den up, but I have pictures of bears here in Ohio in Geauga County that were at a deer feeder when it was pouring down snow. They will come out and move around if they get hungry.”
Female black bears give birth to their young in mid- to late winter, and this makes them much more protective of their territory. If you think you are near a black bear den, the best thing to do is leave the area undisturbed. According to the ODNR website, black bears are considered endangered in Ohio and are protected by Ohio wildlife laws, injuring or killing one is illegal.