Black bears sighted in Philly suburbs; simple steps to prevent unwanted encounters

    Black bears will be fair game for hunters in designated areas of New Jersey through Saturday. (Toby Talbot/AP Photo)

    Black bears will be fair game for hunters in designated areas of New Jersey through Saturday. (Toby Talbot/AP Photo)

    It’s peak roaming season for black bears in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. More and more, the animals are making their way to the outskirts of Philadelphia, bringing together two populations that rarely meet.

    Shivaun Williams, a longtime Bucks County resident and writer, started tweeting as a black bear (who has a black bear friend, Carl) last year after her neighbors spotted a real one. Bears were always something she associated with the mountains and places like the Poconos, not lower Bucks County, she says.

    Carl has been trying to explain his way out of that jaywalking ticket, but here's the proof.

    — Black Bear Spotted (@BlackBearSpoted) June 18, 2014

    Now people often tag her when they see a bear, wherever that may be. That’s been happening more in recent weeks. And Black Bear Spotted, she says, has some requests.

    “If you could leave all of your leftovers on top of the trash, that would minimize the time that we have to spend rummaging, it’s really embarrassing to be caught digging through trash cans.”

    “It’s funny,” says Travis Lau, with the Pennsylvania Game Commission. But in all seriousness, Lau “wouldn’t recommend [leaving out] the leftovers, as that’s something that’s more likely to attract a bear.”

    The black bear population in Pennsylvania alone has reached 18,000, compared to 5,000 in the 70s, in part because of hunting restrictions.

    They emerge this time of year, when the mother bear kicks out her cubs so she can mate. That leaves many bears on the search for new homes, and increasingly passing through areas as close to Philly as Montgomery and Bucks counties, hoping to find an easy meal along the way. In recent weeks, two bears have been hit by cars.

    Lau says Pennsylvania bears are rarely aggressive, so don’t panic. But keeping garbage covered, putting that and other appealing items like grills, pet dishes and bird feeders in a garage or closed area is a simple way to avoid them.

    “Typically when those outside food sources go away, the bears go away too,” he says.

    Cheryl Trewella, with the southeast regional Pennsylvania Game Commission also advises that “at nighttime, if you have a dog, flip on the light to make sure the bear is not in your back yard.”

    The state doesn’t track bear sightings, but the population has been moving into the southeast part of the state. Even so, Lau doesn’t see any indication they’re making a permanent home near people. Unlike Black Bear Spotted, Lau says they prefer being away from human activity.

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