No lions, no tigers, but one young black bear … oh my!
The bear, sighted multiple times in southern Indiana over the past few weeks, eventually could make its way to Jackson County.
Residents shouldn’t be concerned about their personal safety, however, because black bears are rarely aggressive toward humans, state wildlife officials said.
Officials gave a news conference about the bear Tuesday at Fort Harrison State Park in Indianapolis. Indiana Department of Natural Resources Division of Fish and Wildlife officials said they have no plans to trap and relocate the bear at this time. They believe the bear to be a male and approximately 200 pounds.
Donna Stanley, longtime park ranger at Muscatatuck National Wildlife Refuge east of Seymour, said she fears for the young bear’s chances of surviving here. She has worked in northern Michigan where bears are common and normally coexist with people without problems.
“Black bears are interesting animals, and personally, I would not be at all concerned about having one around,” she said. “The problem in Indiana is that habitat is very fragmented, and a young, inexperienced bear wandering around here will probably travel into areas where it will encounter people who are not used to seeing bears.”
Stanley said the bear is likely looking for other bears and doesn’t know to stay away from people.
Anyone coming in contact with the bear should not approach it or climb a tree to escape it. Instead, they should back away slowly, waving their arms and shouting to scare the bear away, she said.
The biggest thing people can do to protect themselves, their property and the bear is not give it access to food, Stanley said.
Since bears can smell food from a mile away, it’s important to keep it away from them, state wildlife officials said. That includes removing bird feeders, cleaning and storing grills after they are used, placing garbage cans inside a garage or shed and picking ripe fruit and vegetables from gardens and orchards immediately. Also, pet food should not be left outside, and people should be careful about what they put in compost piles.
The bear was last reported by a resident who took a picture of it in his backyard in rural Underwood on the Clark-Scott county line between Henryville and Scottsburg.
There were some claims the bear had moved toward the Hanover area and the Scott- Jefferson county line.
Once a native species in Indiana, the black bear now is listed as an exotic mammal and is protected under Indiana law. That law prohibits anyone from killing or injuring the bear unless it is destroying or causing substantial damage to property.
DNR first confirmed the bear was in Corydon on July 17 after a Harrison County homeowner reported it was going through their garbage.
The sighting comes about a year after a black bear wandered into St. Joseph County in northwest Indiana from Michigan. That bear later was trapped and relocated back to Michigan because of its presence in suburban areas and concern for the safety of people and the bear.
Last April, the bear was trapped and euthanized in Michigan because it had lost its fear of humans and was considered a threat to public safety.
It was the first verified presence of a bear in Indiana in more than 140 years, the DNR reported.
Loss of habitat and demand for furs led to the bears’ demise in Indiana in the late 1800s, according to the DNR.
Although unusual, a bear in Indiana doesn’t come as a shock to wildlife officials.
“We’ve anticipated this possibility, and our staff has been preparing,” said Linnea Petercheff, staff operations specialist with the DNR Division of Fish and Wildlife.
Young black bears are known to disperse in the springtime as they seek new territory in which to settle, she said. The bear is most likely wild and swam across the Ohio River from Kentucky, which has an expanding bear population. Young bears, especially males, can range as far as 20 miles a day in the search for food and other bears. They are usually most active at dawn and dusk.
“It is possible black bears may re-establish populations in the southern half of our state,” said Sam Whiteleather of the DNR Division of Fish and Wildlife. “Education efforts on how to deal with nuisance black bears would be conducted to help ensure black bears are enjoyed from a distance.”
Stanley doesn’t think it’s likely the bear would stay in Jackson County.
“Bears need a lot of territory, and Muscatatuck is too small a place for a bear,” she said. “If it’s lucky, it might make it to the Hoosier National Forest where it might find enough area to survive.”
But she doesn’t expect that to happen, either.
“Young animals wander looking for company and new places, just like teenagers,” she said. “I am afraid the current bear may get hit by a car or frighten someone in their backyard, which might result in it getting shot.”
DNR wildlife biologists will monitor the bear to determine whether to allow it to remain where it is or trap it and relocate it to a more suitable environment for a bear.
That decision will be based on whether the bear exhibits nuisance behavior and continues to come into close contact with humans.
The DNR has a protocol in place should the bear become a nuisance, said Josh Griffin of the DNR Division of Fish and Wildlife.
“It’s best if people just leave the bear alone and let it be a part of the natural environment,” he said.
If you see a black bear:
•Enjoy it from a distance.
•Do not climb a tree.
•Advertise your presence by shouting and waving your arms and backing slowly away.
•Never attempt to feed or attract bears.
•Report bear sightings to the Indiana Division of Fish and Wildlife at 812-334-1137, through email at dfw@dnr.IN.gov or online.
SOURCE: Indiana Department of Natural Resources