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OHIO State aims to keep track of growing bear population



Published: Wed, July 18, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



There have been more than 50 bear sightings in Northeast Ohio so far this year.

By MIKE BRAUN

VINDICATOR OUTDOORS EDITOR

The Ohio Division of Wildlife is looking to take advantage of the influx of black bears into the state.

Jeff Herrick, manager of District Three for the Ohio Department of Natural Resources' Division of Wildlife in Akron, said the division will study using collars on bears that it relocates.

"This would give us data about where they travel and how far they go," Herrick said. The study will target sows and cubs.

Information from the project would be crucial to any decision to establish a hunting season for black bears. "That's many, many years down the road," Herrick said.

Trap: Meanwhile, a bear trap placed by the division in Warren Township in Trumbull County over the weekend was to be removed Tuesday or today, Herrick said.

A black bear sighting prompted the division to place the trap, he said. The bear was seen Saturday evening around several homes and poked its nose inside the door of one home where a meal was being cooked.

Since then, "we haven't had any more sightings, and that's a positive," he said.

A negative side of the situation with this bear was that it did not exhibit any fear of humans.

Fear factor: That fear factor looms large in any decision on trapping and relocating the bears. Bears that are not afraid of humans are more likely to cause trouble. Herrick said that's why the division cautions rural homeowners to make sure they keep food items and trash securely contained outside.

More and more bears are being sighted in Ohio, probably because of juvenile animals striking out on their own and looking for territory to call home.

"We've had 51 reports, to date, of bears in Northeastern Ohio," Herrick said. "Last year there were 66 reports all year across the entire state."

Among the 51 sightings there were three reports of sows with cubs this spring.

"The point we want to make is that, unfortunately, occasionally we have to euthanize a bear," Herrick said. "But at some time in the future we will have a nice population of truly wild bears in Ohio."

The truly wild bear is one that, when it comes into contact with a human, turns tail and disappears. "The wild bears will stay away from areas populated by humans," he said.

For bears that do not have this fear, the division will attempt to re-instill fear in them when they are found and trapped in populated areas. "That's why we set off noisemakers and release them back into wild areas," he explained.

Can't leave state: Sending them to far away areas of the state or into other states is not usually an alternative.

"In 1992, with the first bear we ever moved, we took it to the Shawnee National Forest, which has the largest public block of uninhabited land in Ohio," he said.

The bear wandered out of the forest, swam the Ohio River, and became a nuisance in an inhabited area of nearby Kentucky. The bear was eventually dispatched by Kentucky wildlife officers, Herrick said.

A second bear relocated four or five years ago was taken to a remote section of Harrison County but was eventually killed by wildlife officers when it made its way to Licking County, a considerable distance away, and became a nuisance.

No matter where you put a bear in Ohio it has the potential to end up in a populated area, Herrick said.

Also arguing against relocating a bear from this area to another is the fact that Trumbull County is a quarantined county because of the raccoon-strain rabies found here.

While bears are not prime carriers of the disease, they can catch it.

"We can't be relocating potentially diseased animals into areas where there is no such disease," Herrick said.

Sending the bear back to Pennsylvania is not an alternative either. There is a gentleman's agreement between Pennsylvania and surrounding states.

"We won't send you our problem animals if you don't send us yours," Herrick said Pennsylvania officials told Ohio. "Believe me, they have many more problem bears they could send us, than we could send them."

Training: Experts like Dr. Gary Alt from Pennsylvania and others from West Virginia have trained Ohio game officers on dealing with bears.

"We've also had internal training and have been trained on use of the mobilization gear," Herrick said. "We also are fortunate to have two wildlife officers, Brain Keyser in Lake County and Doug Miller in Medina County, who had previous bear experience."

Keyser worked with bears with the Pennsylvania Game Commission, while Miller was with the West Virginia wildlife department.

Ohio officials will also continue to learn more about handling bears as they become more common in the state, Herrick said.




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