Black bear are a native species in Ohio. As far back as the 1850’s it was believed that Black bears were extirpated from the state. The black bear was put on the endangered species list after it was confirmed through sightings in 1973 that a population existed.
The last five years or so have been a re-birth for the black bear. In 2009, there were 119 sightings, in 2010 there were more than 150 black bear sightings reported in 23 different counties. A majority of these sightings are from Ashtabula, Geauga, Trumbull, Portages and Lake counties.
In 2011, there were 152 sightings with 60 being confirmed by state wildlife personnel.
According to Jamey Graham, communications specialist for the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR), smaller male bears between the ages of 1 - 2 years old are being pushed west from Pennsylvania in search of territory not occupied by older more aggressive bears.
“What we are finding is that they are coming west, and running into populations of people that they are not used to and don’t know how to act around them.”
According to Jamey, this forces bears to either go back across state lines or try to tough it out here with the citizens of Northeast Ohio.
Black bears have been reported as far west as Medina and Wayne counties. Gates Mills has a confirmed bear sighting and even the city of Youngstown had a bear last year that had to be trapped and relocated.
Jamey stated that “sometimes a bear in a populated area creates a spectacle that everyone wants to see, people need to understand that these bears have never seen the large populations of humans they are running into and this confuses and disorients them. It is important to give the bear space.”
Jason Hadsell is the wildlife officer for Ashtabula county and he said that even though there is no proof yet, it is only a matter of time before black bears begin to breed in Ohio.
The carrying capacity of a black bear population in Ohio is unknown. It has been over a hundred and fifty years since black bear have thrived in Ohio, and with all the changes since then, there is no definition of what a healthy population looks like. Breeding bears would create a home range in Ohio for each bear born, and they could move further west.
Bears that are in southern Ohio are finding more space, less populations of humans and have a better shot at creating a healthy population.
Northeast Ohio is a bit different, bears may simply not be able to live among our heavily populated areas without becoming a possible nuisance.
According to Jamey right now the ODNR doesn’t have a plan to create a habitat; they aren’t encouraging or discouraging the population either way. Studies are being done to try and get accurate counts of bears by gathering evidence, relying on citizens to continue to report sightings, and confirming those sightings with wildlife officers.
Any hope for hunting bear in Ohio is “light years away” according to Jamey, as there is too much work to be done to truly understand what type of populations we currently have, what Ohio can sustain, and how humans handle a healthy bear population that would enable hunting of any kind.
The primary steps being taken by the ODNR are studying the bears in Ohio and educating the public. If you do spot a bear, stay clear, give the bear space, and call the ODNR at 1-800-WILDLIFE (1-800-945-3543).
pictures used with permission from
Carnathan / The-Digital-Picture.com