Grit Blogs > News From The Nest In Rural Pennsylvania

The Problem with Black Bears

Black bear one mile from our house

When I was a child, it was a rare occurrence for someone to see a black bear around these parts. If one was spotted, it didn’t take long for the word to spread! Things have really changed since then. Now they have become a common sight, and in some instances, a real problem!

Our relationship with the bears started about 8 years ago, when we built our home. We were getting ready to lay up our basement wall. We had block, and sand delivered, and we got bags of mortar and a cement mixer to do the job. We did all the work ourselves. I am very fortunate to have a dad and uncles who used to be mason contractors! The day after it was delivered, my husband found someone had been playing in the sand. He was going to yell at the kids for knocking the sand down and spreading it out all over the place when he noticed the paw prints in it. It turns out it was not “someone,” but “something” playing in the sand. You could see where a bear had stood and rolled in the sand. It was also clear where the bear walked away, with the sand falling out of its long black fur.

That was the beginning of our black bear encounters. Since then, it seems the population has steadily increased. We’ve had bears take down our bird feeders numerous times, pull bird houses down, get into the garbage, and even push off the heavy cement lid that covers our septic tank. I have no idea why! They’ve also overturned stones that I use for landscaping around my flowerbeds, obviously looking for grubs and bugs underneath.

Mama bear with one of three cubs

Although all these things have been a nuisance, and there is some cost in replacing bird feeders, we didn’t get terribly upset. It was cool to see them now and then, and me being me, I love the photo opportunities! Of course, most of the time the bears seem to show up at dusk, in low light conditions, making it very difficult to get clear photos. Two years ago we had six different bears visiting out place. There was a mother with three cubs, and two single bears that would visit at different times.  

The other two black bear cubs in our driveway

Recently though, especially in the past year, things have gotten worse. The population seems to have jumped again, and the bears are now causing some serious problems for people. Many people in the area have had animals killed by bear, mostly rabbits and chickens. A neighbor over the hill had his chicken house raided, and all his chickens killed by a huge black bear. My friend, who is his neighbor, had to chase the same bear away from her chicken house many times. Fearing it would come back at night, or when they weren’t home to chase it away, they put electric fence around the building to try and deter it. So far this has worked for them. My uncle, who lives right down the road from them, has had his bird feeders destroyed many times. He also raises rabbits, and fears the bear will get into his barn sometime.

Black bear in a bee's nest

Another area resident had a bear break into his horse barn, after the horse feed. He had the barn locked up, but it broke in anyway. It didn’t hurt the horses, but they were so panicked at the presence of the bear in the barn, they broke out of the fence to get away.

Our neighbor down the road raises whitetail deer, and he has also been having trouble with a bear. I could go on and on. Many of these people have called the game commission, but have been basically told there is nothing that can be done, and that they should get a bear license.

I do hope many people get their bear tags this year. The population needs to be brought under control. My husband was fortunate to harvest a bear two years ago. When we processed the meat, we made steaks, roasts, hamburger, and we even made some jerky. We liked all of it. I also rendered the fat from the bear, and it was the best lard I have ever gotten! We used it to make suet for the birds, but I am sure it would have made great homemade soap too.

Jimmy with his bear

I have my suspicions that some people in the area may be feeding the bears. This is very dangerous and can cause some real problems. The bears learn to associate humans with food. They can become accustomed to people, and no longer fear them.

Black bear not afraidI had a small bear come walking up our drive one day. It was just nosing around, not really causing any problems. Of course I immediately went for my camera. I slipped quietly out onto the porch so I could get some clear shots. The bear was about 30 yards from me. It saw me, but did not get excited. In fact, it didn’t even seem to care that I was there. I had my telephoto lens on my camera, and I was snapping away. The bear had started to work its way towards me. I suddenly noticed that I could no longer get the whole bear in the frame anymore, and when I looked up from the camera, the bear was now ten feet from me! I don’t get too worried about the bears, they will usually run from people, but this one I realized, was actually walking to me. I left it go, till it turned as if to actually come up the steps of the porch with me, about six feet away. Then I yelled at it. It stopped walking and just looked at me. I yelled again, and it turned and made a couple small bounds to the side. It looked over its shoulder at me again, and then just turned and leisurely walked away.

Black bear in the bird feedersI believe that bear was fed by people at some point. It was going to come right up onto the porch with me because it thought I had food. People might think it is cool to feed a bear like this one, but what happens when that bear grows up to be a 500 pounder with no fear of humans? I have a great respect for nature and wildlife, but I also know that in order for people and animals to co-exist, their population must be kept under control, and we must remember that these are wild animals and not pets.

Now is the time of year that I would normally be filling my bird feeders and suet feeders for all my feathered friends. I have decided to wait a bit longer this year. My husband and I now have chickens and ducks that range freely on our property. I am worried if I fill the feeders, it will be like inviting the bear for a lovely appetizer, then inviting them to the main course of chicken and duck just around the corner of the house! So far, we haven’t had any incidents of the bear bothering our poultry, but I don’t want to invite trouble!

Once the bears go into hibernation, we should be able to set out a banquet that the birds and squirrels can enjoy and have all to themselves!