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Friday, July 6, 2012

Say Hello To Your Newest Neighbor: The Black Bear

A mother black bear and her four cubs are crossing a road in Hemlock Farms in Pike County, Pennsylvania. (Gary Alt)A black bear is raiding garbage on a porch at the Hemlock Farms development in Pike County, Pennsylvania. (Gary Alt)Appearances can be deceiving. Some black bears, like this one, have brown fur, making them look more like a brown bear. (Gary Alt)Black bears have some distinctive features, like a straight face profile, taller ears and no shoulder hump.(Gary Alt)You can see some differences in the brown bear, which has a dished face profile, shorter, rounded ears and a shoulder hump. (Gary Alt)Another sign of a black bear is that they have much shorter claws than a brown bear. (Gary Alt)Longer claws are a sign of brown bears, like this one at the Brooks River in Katmai National Park in southern Alaska. (Gary Alt)Gary Alt took this orphaned black bear cub to a "foster" mother bear in her den in northeastern Pennsylvania. (Gary Alt)

If you live in a metropolitan area, you’ve probably seen some wildlife creeping into your neighbor now and then. Maybe some wild turkeys, a deer, even a coyote or two. But in the last few weeks there’s been an uptick in black bear sightings in unusual places.

Residents of Vineland, New Jersey recently spotted a bear walking down the street. A bear that climbed a tree in the backyard of an upscale home in the Boston suburb of Brookline caused a huge uproar. And in Tampa, Florida, a bear passed by a McDonald’s restaurant.

Wildlife biologist Gary Alt told Here and Now’s Robin Young that most of the black bears venturing into cities are males looking to establish new territory.

“Their mothers kicked them out their natal home range between the age of 18 months to 30 months and they strike out on their own,” Alt said. “They will often disperse 10, 20, 40, 50 sometimes up to a hundred miles away. Those are the ones that most often wind up in urban areas.”

Alt said that this is just the tip of the iceberg, because black bears are very good at adapting.

The black bear population has risen dramatically in the past few decades, especially in the east where many former farms have reverted back to forest.

Wildlife managers say we better get used to them and start figuring out ways to live harmoniously with the American black bear.


  • Gary Alt, biologist and principal scientist for the environmental consulting firm Normandeau Associates and former bear habitat manager for the state of Pennsylvania.

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