Don’t be surprised if black bears are added to the list of wildlife seen in or around your neighborhood this spring and summer.
Young bears, mostly males, often are spotted during this time of year close to suburbs and even urban areas such as metro Atlanta, according to the Georgia Department of Natural Resources’ Wildlife Resources Division.
These bears, referred to as “transient” bears, are looking for their own territory as they are no longer under the protection of a sow (i.e. the mother bear). If left alone, they usually return to established bear range – the north Georgia mountains, the Ocmulgee River drainage system in central Georgia or the Okefenokee Swamp in the southeastern part of the state.
However, in some cases, bear populations have expanded beyond what once was considered traditional bear range into other areas along the wild land/urban interface. It might be sows with cubs or other mature bears that ventured into new territory the previous fall in search of food when their natural food sources, such as oak acorns in north Georgia, were scarce. Having discovered this new territory with readily available food sources late last year, some of these bears likely spent the winter denning in suburbia and are awakening to spring in these areas that they now call home.
Regardless of whether bears are just passing through or perhaps are newfound residents of the community at large, the best way to avoid problems is to minimize the availability of non-natural, human-provided foods.
While there is no way to prevent a bear from wandering into a neighborhood, there are ways to discourage it from staying:
- Never feed a bear. Keep items such as grills, pet food and bird feeders off-limits to bears. Clean and store grills when not in use. Keep pet food indoors and take down bird feeders (April-November) if bears frequent your area.
- Use “bear-proof” garbage containers, or store garbage in the garage or other enclosed area until the morning of pick-up day.
Properly securing food and garbage prevents bears from accessing these non-natural, human-provided food sources, and helps avoid the unhealthy process of habituation that occurs when bears easily obtain food from people and begin associating humans with food.
If a bear is sighted in your neighborhood, here are some tips on how to respond:
- Leave all bears alone. Usually, they are only passing through an area.
- Stay a safe distance away.
- Never, under any circumstances, intentionally feed a bear.
- Never attempt to ‘tree’ or corner a bear as it compromises the safety and welfare of both the public and the bear
“Unless there is evidence of aggressive behavior or habituation to people, there is no real cause for alarm,” said Adam Hammond, state bear biologist with the Wildlife Resources Division.
The black bear is a symbol of Georgia’s natural diversity, the only bear found in the state and a high-priority species in the state’s Wildlife Action Plan, a comprehensive conservation strategy. Though now considered the most common bear in North America, the species was nearly eradicated from Georgia in the 1930s due to unregulated market hunting, poaching and large-scale habitat loss. Sound wildlife management practices have restored Georgia’s black bears to a thriving population estimated at 5,100 bears statewide.
Black bears may legally be hunted during the season, which occurs each fall in Georgia in certain areas (www.georgiawildlife.com/hunting/regulations). However, the taking of bears during any other time of the year or the taking of bears illegally during the hunting season is called poaching. Prevent poaching of bears by reporting any illegal activity. Information can be reported by email, phone or in person. Visit www.georgiawildlife.com/enforcement/turn-in-poachers for details.
For more information regarding black bears, visit www.georgiawildlife.com/blackbearfacts or contact a Wildlife Resources Division game management office. The public also can visit their local library to check out a copy of an informational DVD entitled, “Where Bears Belong: Black Bears in Georgia.”