Welcoming back the black bear

Matthew “Woody” Woodyard, Interpretive Naturalist

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Due to unregulated hunting and past deforestation, the black bear has essentially become extirpated (eliminated) from Ohio. As more land in Ohio is conserved and reforested to its natural state, the black bear population is making a comeback. Studies show bears from West Virginia and Pennsylvania are moving back to Ohio to lay claim on new territories. According to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR), there are an estimated 50 to 100 black bears living in Ohio today.

Map courtesy of Ohio Department of Natural Resources

The black bear’s return to Ohio should be viewed as a positive indicator for our ecosystem. They are omnivores, so their diet can consist of anything from fruit and grasses to meat. While consuming nuts and berries and covering so much ground, black bears increase the dispersal of seeds throughout the environment, allowing for more growth. Also, as a top predator on the food chain, black bears control overpopulation of other animals in the area.

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The black bear’s most active season occurs between May and July. While it’s unlikely, if you encounter a black bear, remember to remain calm and avoid provoking the animal. Usually, the bear will flee upon noticing a human being present. Allow plenty of space between you and the bear and give it room to easily escape. If the bear does continue to approach, raise your hands high above your head to appear larger and more intimidating. You can even clap your hands and make loud noises to scare off the bear. It’s important to always keep your pets on a leash while hiking, as they can startle or provoke a bear on the trail.

There are also several things you can do to avoid attracting black bears to your personal property. Move bird feeders out of reach and remove uneaten pet food from outside. Keep your trash inside and clean up well after grilling. Remember, if you do spot a black bear in your area, you can report it online to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources or call 1–800-WILDLIFE.

The return of the back bear adds diversity and stability to the ecosystems of Ohio and should be welcomed with open claws — I mean arms!

Summit Metro Parks manages 14,000 acres, 16 parks and more than 150 miles of trails. Find more at www.summitmetroparks.org.