SOCIAL CIRCLE — As the weather warms, sightings of multiple types of wildlife potentially increase. This could include black bears in or around your neighborhood this spring and summer, according to the Georgia Department of Natural Resources’ Wildlife Resources Division.
If left alone, bears typically will return to established bear range — the north Georgia mountains, the Ocmulgee River drainage system in central Georgia or the Okefenokee Swamp in the southeastern part of the state. However, even as wild land and urban areas increasingly overlap, bear range likely will continue to expand, meaning even more sightings are possible.
Where do these bears come from?
In most cases, the bears found outside of their established range are young males looking for their own territory, as they are no longer under the protection of a sow (i.e., the “mother” bear). However, in some cases it might be sows with cubs or other mature bears that have ventured into new territory in search of food.
While there is no way to prevent a bear from wandering into a neighborhood, there are ways to discourage it from staying:
• Never feed a bear. Keep items such as grills, pet food and bird feeders off-limits to bears. Clean and store grills when not in use. Keep pet food indoors and take down bird feeders (April-November) if bears frequent your area.
• Use “bear-proof” garbage containers, or store garbage in the garage or other enclosed area until the morning of pickup day.
Properly securing food and garbage prevents bears from accessing these non-natural, human-provided food sources, and helps avoid the unhealthy process of habituation that occurs when bears obtain food from people and begin associating humans with food.
If a bear is sighted in your neighborhood, here are some tips on how to respond:
• Leave all bears alone. Usually they are only passing through an area.
• Stay a safe distance away. Do not try to approach a bear.
• Never, under any circumstances, intentionally feed a bear.
• Never attempt to “tree” or corner a bear, as this compromises the safety and welfare of both the public and the bear.
“Unless there is evidence of aggressive behavior or habituation to people, there is no cause for alarm,” said Adam Hammond, state bear biologist with the Wildlife Resources Division.
The black bear is a symbol of Georgia’s natural diversity, the only bear found in the state and a high-priority species in the state’s Wildlife Action Plan, a comprehensive conservation strategy. Though now considered the most common bear in North America, the species was nearly eradicated from Georgia in the 1930s because of unregulated market hunting, poaching and large-scale habitat loss. Sound wildlife management practices have restored Georgia’s black bears to a thriving population estimated at 5,100 bears statewide.
For more information regarding black bears, visit www.georgiawildlife.com/blackbearfacts or contact a Wildlife Resources Division game management office.