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  Living With Pennsylvania's Black Bears
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Camping and Hiking in Bear Country

Although black bears are generally shy and avoid contact with humans, it's important to remember that bears are the state's largest predators. Bears must be respected for their size and strength. Do not deliberately approach a bear or try to become chummy with one that's coming to an established feeding site. Play it smart. Keep your distance.

If you camp or hike in bear country, you're responsible for doing all you can to prevent close encounters and conflicts with bears. Your giving a bear food may serve as encouragement for it to approach someone else, someone not looking for a close-up opportunity with a bear. If the person doesn't give the bear food, it could lead to an unpleasant and possibly dangerous experience. Never reward a bear for associating with people. It's what's best for you, the next person and the bear.

Here are some steps you can take if you're spending time afield in Penn's Woods:

  1. Keep your camp clean and odor free. Wipe tables and clean eating utensils thoroughly after every meal. Burn all grease off grills and camp stoves. In short, keep your tent, camper and sleeping bag free of all food smells.
  2. Store your food in safe or bear-proof places. Place foods and coolers in your car trunk or suspend them from a tree branch. Never leave food in your tent.
  3. Dispose of garbage properly. Use the camp receptacles if provided, or store trash in your vehicle. Pack out your garbage if you must, but never leave your garbage behind and people.
  4. If you hike at dawn or dusk your chances are greater of meeting a bear or other wildlife. In places where hearing or visibility is impaired (roar of fast-moving water, thick vegetation), reduce your chances of surprising a bear by talking or making noise.
  5. Leave dogs at home or keep them on a leash.

What To Do If You Meet a Black Bear

Bear attacks are rare compared to the number of close encounters. In most cases, a bear will detect you first and leave the area long before you'll ever see it. However, if you do meet a bear before it's had time to leave, here are some suggestions. But remember, every situation is different with respect to the bear, the terrain, the people, and their activity.

STAY CALM -- If you see a bear and it hasn't seen you, leave the area calmly. While moving away, talk to help the bear discover your presence.

GET BACK -- If you have a close encounter, back away slowly while facing a bear. Avoid direct eye contact, which a bear may perceive as a threat. Give the bear plenty of room to escape. Wild bears rarely attack people unless they feel threatened or provoked. If you're on a trail, step off on the downhill side and slowly leave the area.

DON'T CLIMB OR RUN -- If a cub is nearby, try to move away from it. But be alert, there could be other cubs. Never climb a tree to escape because sows chase their cubs up trees when they detect danger. If you climb a tree, a sow may interpret that as an attempt to get her cubs. Stay on the ground and don't run or make any sudden movements. Running may prompt the bear to give chase, and you can't outrun a bear.

PAY ATTENTION -- Bears will use all of their senses to figure out what you are. If they recognize you as a person, some may stand upright or move closer in their efforts to detect odors in the air currents. Don't consider this a sign of aggression. Once a bear identifies you, it will usually leave the area. However, if the bear stays, it may pop its jaws as a warning sign that it's uncomfortable. That's a sign for you to leave. Back away and slowly leave the area. If you ignore the jaw popping warning, some bears have been known to bluff charge to within a few feet. If this occurs, wave your arms wildly and shout at the bear.

FIGHT BACK -- Black bear attacks in the eastern United States are rare. However, they have occurred. If a bear attacks, fight back. Bears have been driven away when people have fought back with rocks, sticks, binoculars and even their bare hands.

The Pennsylvania Game Commission is responsible for managing, conserving and protecting wildlife. If you have a nuisance bear problem, or have been threatened by a bear, please contact the Pennsylvania Game Commission at the following telephone numbers:

Harrisburg Headquarters 717-787-4250
Northwest Region Office 814-432-3189
Southwest Region Office 724-238-5639
Northcentral Region Office 570-398-3423
Southcentral Region Office 814-643-9635
Northeast Region Office 570-675-5065
Southeast Region Office 610-926-1966


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