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SCOTT SHALAWAY Welcome to the big city, Mr Bear!



Published: Fri, June 8, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



Last month I wrote a column about Baltimore orioles and suggested they could be attracted with grape jelly.

Depending on where you live, that may have been bad advice. The day after that column appeared, I received a phone message from a friend, Dave Arnold, who lives on the rim of West Virginia's New River gorge.

Dave said he and his wife had read the column, and they agreed to give the jelly a try. There were orioles in the area, and they wouldn't mind feeding them. .

& quot;So we put a dish of jelly on a platform feeder, & quot; Dave said. & quot;When we got up the next morning, our feeders were scattered all over the yard,, and one heavy metal pole was bent in half. Scott, orioles may like grape jelly, but so do bears. It also destroyed my compost pile. Thanks for the tip! & quot;.

Oops: I stand corrected. If there are bears in your neighborhood, don't feed grape jelly. In fact, if you live in bear country, all pet food and wild bird food should be taken in at night. Otherwise, bears will eventually become a problem.

So, where is bear country? Until last week, I considered bears limited to remote mountainous areas. But bear populations are expanding and on the move. I've heard of bear sightings near Charleston, W.Va. and Pittsburgh in recent years, and I've had several reliable reports of bears within five miles of my house, but I thought they were the exception -- cause for interest and curiosity, perhaps even anticipation.

But a spate of bear reports last week have me rethinking my opinion. Last Wednesday, a four to five month old bear cub appeared on a city street in McMechen, W.Va., a small Ohio River town just south of Wheeling.

The next day a bear cub, presumably the same one, showed up in Moundsville, about four miles south.

The following day, after the young bear was seen raiding residential garbage cans and being chased by neighborhood dogs, law enforcement officials captured the cub and took it to a nearby animal shelter where it stayed until a DNR biologist could pick it up.

Another incident: Meanwhile as these events unfolded in West Virginia, another bear incident occurred in Oakmont, Pa. ,near Pittsburgh. A 200-pound bear was spotted dining in a garbage dumpster at a local restaurant. In less than 24 hours a Pennsylvania Game Commission conservation officer had set a trap and captured the wandering bear. After tranquilizing the bear, the conservation officer, Daniel Sifler, took the bear to a nearby elementary school for an impromptu lesson on bear biology.

A question: All of this begs several questions: Where are these bears coming from? Are they dangerous? If one shows up in my backyard, what should I do? .

Wandering bears presumably are the result of increasing populations dispersing into steadily improving habitat. Bears are solitary animals. In a young bear's second year adults drive them away, so in a growing population there is always a source of wandering young bears. Second growth woodlands in Pennsylvania and West Virginia are getting mature and large enough to sustain at least a small bear population.

Black bears are reclusive and usually avoid human contact. Problems occur when people try to get too close. NEVER feed bears. It only teaches bears that backyards and people are a source of food. They will return, and almost certainly get more demanding. So avoid creating a problem by not feeding bears in the first place.

Furthermore, Paul Johansen, assistant chief of the Wildlife Resources Section of the WVDNR, warns that feeding bears, & quot;too often results in the death of the bear. & quot; .

When bears learn to raid garbage cans, pet food dishes and even bird feeders, they become dangerous nuisances and often must be destroyed by state personnel. If bears show up in your neighborhood, you do both yourself and the bears a disservice by feeding them.

Bear-proofing garbage, pet foods, and even bird feeders is difficult, so it's best to store these items indoors.

If you've seen a bear in your backyard, I'd love to hear about it.

sshalaway @aol.com.




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