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Reports of Bears in Residential Areas Increase as Hibernation Season Ends

by on March 31, 2015 6:00 AM

After a long winter slumber, bears in the State College area are awake, hungry, and searching for food in residential neighborhoods around State College.

As the weather warms up and hibernation comes to an end, bears are more active around homes in early spring than any other time of the year.

Robyn Graboski, the founder of Centre Wildlife Care, says her organization has received numerous calls about destroyed bird feeders already this spring.

Ferguson Township reports nearly a dozen calls about mangled bird feeders so far this spring. The State College Police Department has only received one call over the last month. There have been no bear sightings or encounters in our area.

There are more Black bears in North Central Pennsylvania than anywhere else in the state, says Doty McDowell, the information and education supervisor for the Pennsylvania Game Commission.

McDowell says that there are over 18,000 bears statewide, and when they wake up after a long winter slumber, they're hungry.

"They've been holed up all winter long living off of their fat reserves from last fall," he says. "There's not a whole lot of food in the forest right now and they're looking for anything they can get their hands on."

That often leads bears to homes that have bird feeders outside. Garbage bags and pet food can also attract bears to homes as they scavenge for a food source.

Graboski says bird feeders are a target for bears this time of year. If you want to avoid finding a damaged feeder, Graboski suggests keeping it inside for two to four weeks.

"Anywhere where there are bears, you need to take the bird feeders down for a few weeks until the bears move on," she says. "A lot of people in the community aren't necessarily accustomed to taking their bird feeders down, but this is nothing unusual. It happens every year and they'll eventually move on and find other food sources."

Black bears are often shy and harmless if you respect them, but don't be fooled by their appearance. The Game Commission says that they are an agile animal in spite of their size. Black bears can weigh 600 pounds and upwards and run up to 35 miles per hour, climb trees, and swim.

They are most active at night, when they do the majority of their foraging, so leaving bird feeders out during the day shouldn't be an issue. In the rare case that someone encounters a bear during the day, McDowell and Graboski both recommend avoiding any contact with the animal.

"It would be extremely rare but just don't approach it," Graboski says. "Bears are pretty shy and they'll probably run away if they see you."

McDowell adds that you can contact the game commission, which will typically send a local conservation officer to assist with your bear problem. In most cases, some simple education on how to avoid attracting bears will solve the issue, but the commission will trap and relocate bears if they become a consistent nuisance.

McDowell stresses that bears won't go away as long as they have a continuous source of food, risking property damage and endangering both the homeowner and the entire neighborhood.

You can find more information on black bears in Pennsylvania and how to deal with them here.


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Zach Berger is the managing editor of He graduated from Penn State University in 2014 with a degree in print journalism. Zach enjoys writing about a variety of topics ranging from football to government, music, and everything in between.
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