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Bears in Pennsylvania

by Rebecca Hazen - July 20, 2016

Hills Creek State Park Naturalist Jim Mucci held a program about black bears in Pennsylvania at the park’s nature center.

According to Mucci, the population estimate of bears in Pennsylvania is over 20,000.

Bears

“We have had them in the park every year since I have been here. Some years it is just a pass through, and some years they come here and set up shop for the summer,” Mucci said.

Back in 1977 when Mucci first arrived, there was no bear hunting season for two years, due to there only being an estimated 3,000 bears in the state at the time. Back then, bear season was a week long. Now, the Game Commission limits the amount of bear hunting permits to 150,000, and they also made the season start on a Monday, and that cut down on the hunting pressure.

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From that little jump start, the bear population was able to take off.

The peak of bear breeding season is June, July and August. Right now in forested areas you can see bears in Pennsylvania just about any point and time in the day.

“Pennsylvania bears tend to be much bigger than bears from other state. Our bears do real well weight wise. Why? Well, food. A local person around here found a bear licking the bumper of his jeep because it had bugs on it. It doesn’t take much to attract a bear,” Mucci said. To further prove this point, Mucci showed an old home movie clip that showed a bear digging through the trash at Hills Creek State Park.

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Adult male bears average about 300 pounds elsewhere, but in Pennsylvania, they can average about 500 pounds.

It was recently thought that bears can live up into their 20s, but local conservationists have recently found two bears that were 30 years old, based on their tags.

“Our bears usually blow everything out of the water in terms of what they can do. Most female bears have cubs at three and a half years of age, but in Pennsylvania, if they put on enough weight they can have cubs at age two and a half,” Mucci said.

Cubs are usually born in January, and will stay in the den with their mother until about March. Female bears average about three cubs, but five is not unheard of. Recently, one family of campers pulled up to their camp site at Hills Creek State Park and saw a mother bear and all five cubs sleeping on the picnic table!

The conservation officers in each district have a quota of how many bears they are expected to trap and tag each year. Here in Tioga County that quota is 26 bears. Bears are caught with a culvert trap.

“I bet you can’t guess what is used as bait to lure the bears in,” Mucci said. “Stale Dunkin Donuts!” It works really well and Dunkin Donuts likes the publicity,” Mucci said with a laugh.

Once the bears are tranquilized, they will pull a tooth and put an ear tag in. If it is a male bear, conservation officers tend to tattoo the tag number on the inside of their lip in addition to having the ear tag just in case if the tag gets ripped out if the bear fights with another male. The bears are also weighed.

If you are attacked by a black bear, you actually want to fight back. If you play dead, the bear will try to eat you. Don’t try to climb a tree. Don’t try to run away, because that will trigger that predatory response. However, most of the time, when you come across a bear, they will run away from you.

“Bears become dangerous when they are fed. Feeding bears is not good for anyone involved. You should not have a bird feeder. If you do have one, you are going to be asked to take it down. If not, the bears will come in. It gets bears used to people, which isn’t a good thing,” Mucci said.

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Also, they are spreading mange in the process. Bears are usually solitary animals, but when bears are all going after a food source, a healthy bear will come in contact with a bear that has mange. Mange is a skin disease of mammals caused by parasitic mites. It can cause itching, hair loss, and scabs and lesions.

Mucci says that ever since the park got bear resistant trash bins, they are having less of a food problem in the park.

The black bear is the most common of the three bear species found in North America, and the only species found in Pennsylvania.

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