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!

elizabethsagarminaga
2/4/2015 5:22:56 AM

Thanks for great ideas and tips that you have shared. As far as your problem is concerned of black beer, in my opinion you should put an electric fence around your yard that not only gives a fresh ambiance but also protect from wild animals. I work with fencing supplies in and around Orange County provides great fencing products for your need with amazing fencing services.


sandy_3
1/16/2010 10:48:59 AM

Lori I'd like to ask you about using one of your black bear pictures in a non-profit educational program I am preparing on box turtles. Could you contact me? (sandy.barnett@verizon.net)


alex
9/10/2009 12:40:58 PM

"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." To co-exist, human population is also has to be under control, it is humans, who cut down forests, and jam wildlife down to tiny clocks of land. So stop blaming nature, animals are just trying to make the living in this filth, and it is not that easy for them as it is for you. Instead of thinking how to treat your self again with something tasty, just think how a wild, hungry animal should make the living in this conditions...


cindy murphy
11/20/2008 2:58:16 PM

"One other thing that worries me a bit is mountain lions. Although the PA Game Commission denies any of these cats in this state, there have been a number of sightings in the area from people I would trust to be truthful about what they saw. I really don't want these animals lurking around to become a problem. They frighten me more than any black bear." We have the exact same issue here, Lori...right down to DNR denying there being cougars in the area despite the multiple reported sightings. Soon after reading a big write-up in the paper about the sightings, I was out in the woods roller-skiing near our house, and spotted a flash of something running alongside. I was scared to death when it bounded out of the brush and onto the trail in front of me, swearing I was going to be attacked by a cougar. Instead it was a friendly yellow lab wanting some attention. Whew! The real problem here is deer. Homeowners feed them; hunters bait them - both of which are now illegal in Michigan. The deer here, (and I believe Indiana), have been discovered to have a very communicable and fatal disease, which spreads easily when they congregate. Despite the new laws, I know of people who still feed them, thinking they are doing the animals a service. While we were up north, we still saw bags of deer apples and carrots available for purchase by hunters. Sigh. People, it seems, learn a whole lot slower than the animals.


lori
11/20/2008 8:51:42 AM

Cindy, I remember seeing a movie called "The Great Outdoors" with John Candy that had a scene in it something like the experience you describe from your childhood at the bear dump. In the movie, John Candy (the father) took his family to a bear dump to see the bears. He took candy bars and threw them on the hood of his vehicle to get a "close view". Of course it was all meant to be funny, as this was a comedy, but it was what popped into my head as soon as I read your comment. In the movie the bears climbed onto his vehicle, and he drove away with them still sitting on the hood or roof. Hi Robyn! I'm really glad we don't have wolves to deal with too around here. There is the occasional coyote, but we've never really had any problems with those. There are plenty of people around here who trap , and when someone hears about coyotes, they promptly set traps to catch them. It keeps the population well under control. One other thing that worries me a bit is mountain lions. Although the PA Game Commission denies any of these cats in this state, there have been a number of sightings in the area from people I would trust to be truthful about what they saw. I really don't want these animals lurking around to become a problem. They frighten me more than any black bear.


robyn dolan
11/20/2008 8:04:30 AM

Hi Lori. And around here in N.Arizona we think the range cattle are annoying. They break through fences to get your hay, and trample anything in their way. I remember when I thought it was charming to find them in my yard. At least they probably won't eat us. We did have a problem with wolf hybrids, though, and those did pose a very real threat to us. And our Game Wardens and animal controls did not offer any support either in either situation. People just don't realize what a bad thing it is to feed the wildlife. Wild animals were designed to hunt and forage, and when we take this away from them by feeding them and not fencing them out as best we can, they start to lose it and die off. Robyn


cindy murphy
11/8/2008 7:38:35 AM

(I was too wordy again, and the last part of my comment got cut off.) To complete that last thought: These bears in the wild, became tame in a sort of way; they were partly dependant on humans for their nightly meals, and didn't care if the humans watched them eat - something a truly wild animal would not do.


cindy murphy
11/8/2008 7:35:28 AM

Hi, Lori. I can't imagine having a bear in my yard be so bold as to actually attempt to come up on my porch! Sheesh! And I complain about the squirrels! Bears don't live in this part of Michigan, but we have them further north. The last time I remember seeing black bears was when we were kids, camping in the northern part of the Lower Peninsula. It was probably sometime in the early to mid '70s - a time when landfills were not managed the way they are now, and weren't called landfills, but "dumps". There was a large dump near where we were camping, and my Dad drove us there one evening at dusk to watch the bears. Apparently, this was quite the well-known attraction because cars lined up, parked quite a distance from the heaps of garbage, and waited for the stars of the show to appear. I remember clearly there being signs stating something to the effect of 'do not go past this point', and 'do not feed the bears'. It wasn't long before the bears came out of the woods to root through the garbage, and sure enough, one man got out of his car with a bag, intending to feed the bears himself. I probably remember this so clearly because of how upset my dad got at this man's actions - first for not obeying the signs, and secondly for putting himself in danger. The man got quite close, I remember, before losing his nerve, and leaving the bag on the ground to return to his car. It was really neat watching the bears - it was something we never would have got to see at home, and my Dad was big on exposing us kids to all kinds of experiences with nature. Looking back, of course, I realize something I probably didn't when I was a kid of six or seven - it is inevitable that everything us humans do, even the waste we leave behind, affects nature. These bears in the wild, became tame in a sort of way; they were partly dependant on humans for their nightly meals, and didn't care if the humans watch