(AP) Since 1993, when the Division of Natural Resources began investigating and tracking reported bear sighting, the numbers have risen from 25 to more than 66 in 2000, spread over 31 counties. "The number of bears in Ohio has almost tripled since 1993, and that's probably a conservative estimate," said Dave Swanson, an ODNR wildlife biologist.
Although black bears inhabited Ohio prior to settlement of the region, unregulated hunting and the extensive deforestation by the mid-1800's significantly reduced the state's bear population.Bears that remained were shot or trapped to protect livestock and crops. By 1850, black bears were considered nonexistent in Ohio, Swanson said.
However, occasional reports of their presence, particularly in south-central and southeastern Ohio, persisted and, in 1973, included a report of a female with cubs.
In 1999, there was a sighting of a bear bounding across the Cambridge Country Club. In the same year, a bear was killed by a vehicle on U.S. Route 52 in Scioto County.
Most of the bear reports received are believed to be on one-year-old animals that have migrated from Pennsylvania and West Virginia, where sizeable bear populations exist. There are about 8,000 black bears in West Virginia and up to 10,000 in Pennsylvania.
Even with the growth of the species' population in Ohio, the chances of seeing a black bear are slim and the chances of being attacked are even less likely.
"Black bears are not territorial toward people and are usually afraid of being attacked. These bears are not prone to bite people,: said Dr. Lynn Rogers, a wildlife research biologist now retired from the U.S. Forest Service. Black bears are a protected species in Ohio and injuring or killing one is a violation of Ohio wildlife laws.
An adult black bear can weigh between 150 and 600 pounds. Males average 400 pounds, while the smaller females average around 175. Males, when standing upright, measure between 5 and 6 feet tall. Females, typical of mammals, are smaller, measuring 4 to 5 feet. On all fours, most adult black bears are between 2 and 3 feet at the shoulder. Prints from a black bear's front paw are about 6 inches wide.
The bears seek a den each year, usually between October and mid-December where they will hibernate until next March or April. The chances of spotting a bear are best right before and after these times.
Almost all the bear sightings in Ohio have been in the eastern part of the state with majority of sightings being in the counties bordering Pennsylvania and West Virginia. However, bears were also sighted in Highland, Crawford and Erie counties in 2000.
To learn more about bears, visit http://www.bear.org
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