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  Living With Pennsylvania's Black Bears
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from the Pennsylvania Game Commission

Pennsylvania has been a home to black bears since before the earliest settlers arrived. They have been roaming in our forests, wallowing in our bogs and swamps, and living around our farms and homes for a long, long time.

Pennsylvania Black Bear

Bears are many things to many people: valued game animal, farm pillagers, neighborhood pets, garbage-eating pests, even the highlight of an outdoor experience. Our perceptions of bears are a product of their mostly shy, mysterious nature and powerful presence, not to mention the timeless stories that have been told about them over the years. Unfortunately there's as much misinformation about bears in circulation as there is fact. That's too bad because bears needn't be feared nor should they be dismissed as harmless. They simply need to be respected.

Pennsylvania's bear population has been increasing for years. As a result, bears and people are coming into contact more than ever before. These encounters are occurring because development is encroaching into or occupying bear habitat, and bears have learned that there's easy-to-obtain food where people live. Learning about bears and being aware of their habits is important for people who live in bear country, which now spreads throughout most of the state. Our largest bear populations, however, are still found in our northcentral and northeastern counties.

The Bear Facts

Ursus Americanus is the black bear's scientific name; it means "American bear." Although three species of bears inhabit North America, only the black bear can be found in Pennsylvania. Population estimates in recent years have ranged from 8,000 to 10,000 bears. Black bears are very agile, can run up to 35 mph, climb trees and swim well. They may live up to 25 years in the wild, although few do.

Black bears are intelligent and curious. Studies show bears can see colors, recognize human forms, and notice even the slightest movement. However, bears usually rely on their acute sense of smell and, to a lesser degree, hearing to locate food and warn them of danger.

Despite their common name, black bears are not always black. They may be cinnamon-colored, blond or black. Often they have a white spot or on their chest.

Black bears appear heavy and have short, powerful legs. Adults usually weigh from 200 to 600 pounds, with rare individuals weighing up to 900 pounds. Males are called boars; females, sows. An adult male normally weighs more than an adult sow, sometimes twice as much.

Black bears measure about three feet high when on all fours or about five to seven feet tall when standing upright

Bear Signs and Sounds

Bear tracks are distinctive. The hind footprint resembles a human's. Bears have five toes. The front foot is shorter than the rear, which is long and narrow. Claw marks may or may not be visible.

Bears use trails just as people do. Look for tracks in soft earth or around mud puddles. Watch for claw marks on smooth-barked trees or rotten logs that have been ripped apart for insects. It's also easy to recognize a black bear's sizable droppings of partly-digested berries, corn or animal hair.

Adult black bears make a variety of sounds that include woofing, growls and jaw-popping. Sows communicate with their cubs by using low grunts or huffs. Cubs whimper, chuckle and bawl.

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