By SHELLEY TERRY - Staff Writer - firstname.lastname@example.org
Wildlife officials are reminding residents to remove bird feeders, and other potential food sources, before hungry black bears emerge from hibernation during coming weeks.
Ashtabula County residents are more likely to see black bears than those living anywhere else in the state, according to Ohio Department of Natural Resources’ Division of Wildlife statistics.
Last year, 119 black bears were sighted in Ohio, 27 of them right here in Ashtabula County, according to ODNR.
In 2008, there were 105 bear sightings, with the vast majority in the northeast corner of the state. Sixty-five of them were sighted in Ashtabula County, and five each in Lake and Geauga counties, three in Cuyahoga County and two in Medina County.
Wildlife officials warn residents to avoid black bears. Don’t try to approach them or leave food out for them.
Karl Frank of Harpersfield Township was surprised last March by a black bear getting into his backyard bird feeder and swing set.
“I went out to the truck for my paperwork. And I looked over my right shoulder, and there he was, just standing there, looking at me,” Frank said. “He stood there, and I stood there. I don’t think we knew what to make of each other.”
Frank said the bear took a suet cake in his mouth and carried it around like a dog.
State wildlife officials say Frank and other area residents should keep an eye out for bears because the number of black bears coming into the state is increasing every year. In fact, the number has tripled since 1993, according to ODNR wildlife biologists.
Although residents should be cautious, the chance of actually seeing a black bear is slim. The chance of being attacked is even slimmer. These bears are not prone to bite people, according to wildlife biologists.
Bear sightings occurred every month last year except January. Bears usually hibernate until March or April.
Most of the bears were reported May through August, which is the peak of mating season. An adult black bear weighs about 350 pounds and, when standing upright, measures about 5 feet tall. Paw prints measure about 6 inches wide.
So far, 2002 set the record for bear sightings, with 165 sightings in Ohio.
Black bears are endangered in Ohio and are protected by state law.