The black bear population in Ohio is continuing to grow, with recent bear sightings in several Northeast Ohio counties. However, according to Lorain County Wildlife Officer Randy White, it is unlikely bears will appear in northern Lorain County in the near future.
“We have them (black bears) in eastern and the southern Ohio all the time,” White said. He noted it would be extremely unlikely to see a bear in Avon. White added the statewide black bear population is expected to grow, but its numbers will still remain relatively low. The Ohio Department of Natural Resources places Ohio’s total black bear population at around 100. By comparison, Pennsylvania’s black bear population is estimated to be around 8,000-10,000.
The black bear is a massive animal, with males weighing an average of 300 pounds and the average female tipping the scales at nearly 150 pounds. The animal stands 4 to 6 feet tall when up on its hind legs. The black bear can run 35 mph and is a skilled tree climber and swimmer.
Black bears were once widespread throughout Ohio. However, in the mid-1800s, deforestation, coupled with unregulated hunting, resulted in the near-total destruction of the state’s black bear population.
Reports of black bears returning to Ohio began in the 1970s, with sightings contained to southeastern and south-central Ohio. It wasn’t until recently that the bears have begun to appear in populated areas in Northeast Ohio. Closer to home, a Vermilion woman reported seeing a black bear in her backyard last summer. Wildlife officers investigated the matter and came to the conclusion that it was highly unlikely the woman actually saw a black bear.
“The biggest problem is, anytime they make their way further west into these more populated areas, then we have more conflicts with humans,” White noted. “Most of them we end up having to trap and relocate because all they do is cause problems. A black bear in a highly populated area — those two things don’t mix.”
Black bear attacks on humans are extremely rare, but are growing in number. According to a recent study published by the Journal of Wildlife Management, between 1900 and 2009, records indicate a total of 63 deaths from black bear attacks in North America.
The researchers found the majority of attacks, 86 percent, happened after 1960, with the most incidents occurring in Alaska and Canada.
According to the study, 88 percent of the fatal attacks were the result of bears hunting humans as a potential food source. Ninety-two percent of the offending bears were males, which dispels the myth that most bear attacks are the result of a female bear protecting her cubs.
Black bears are omnivores, meaning they eat meat and plants. During the late summer and fall, bears can eat up to 20 hours a day as they build up fat stores in preparation for their winter hibernation.
According to ODNR, if you happen to spot a black bear, leave it alone and do not approach the animal. Bears are also protected in Ohio, and killing or injuring one is illegal. To view an abstract of the Journal of Wildlife Management study visit. There is a fee to view the entire article. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/jwmg.72/abstract
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