Pennsylvania black bears wander into town

By Matt Schickling
Wire Staff Writer

Black bears have been making unscheduled appearances throughout Bucks and Montgomery counties this spring, causing a stir among residents and law enforcement.

“Over the last five years, it’s becoming much more common,” Cheryl Trewella, spokeswoman for the Pennsylvania Game Commission, said. “Bear population as a whole is expanding in the state. So that bottom edge, what we consider bear territory, is getting closer to urban areas.”

In fact, according to the Pennsylvania Game Commission, the state black bear population has increased by nearly 10,000 since the 1970s. The reason for the increasing presence of black bears in the Philadelphia suburbs has more to do with a search for territory than a search for food, Trewella said. Usually, this concerns young males.

Cubs stay with their mothers through about the first year and a half after their birth, but in the spring and early summer of their initial maturity, they will seek new territory. Competition with established males can drive them into residential areas.

When wandering into residential territory, bears face obstacles that do not exist in the wilderness, like vehicles and people. These obstacles can, and often do, result in injury.

“Sometimes, they’ll move through and go back to where they belong, and sometimes we have to intercede,” Trewella said. “The best-case scenario is that they go through these areas on their own and move out.”

Two separate bears spotted in Bucks and Montgomery counties in the last few weeks had sustained such injuries. A bear seen in Bensalem several times over Memorial Day weekend was found with a broken leg, believed to be caused by a collision with an automobile. When the bear was located, it was euthanized due to its injuries.

The following week, a bear sighted throughout Bucks County was found in Horsham by Wildlife Conservation Officers (WCO). The bear was struggling to walk with an injury to one of its hind legs. That bear was also euthanized.

WCO Chris Heil conducted a necropsy on the deceased bear. It revealed that the Horsham bear had hundreds of shotgun pellets under its skin and an old arrow wound in its back leg that had become gangrenous.

“I believe it may have been clipped by a car, which opened the old wound in its back leg, causing it to leave the blood trail,” Heil said in a statement about the bear being euthanized. “It is unfortunate that the story ended this way, but from the injuries this bear was suffering from, it was a necessary outcome.”

Some bears, like one found and captured in Abington in May, can be tagged and released into upstate game lands, pending a clean bill of health. Others that suffered severe injuries are not as fortunate.

“We can’t just take a full-grown black bear into the vet,” Trewella said. “The last thing we want to do is put them into a pen situation, where it loses fear of humans, and then release it.”

Bears put into pens would often have to remain there for life due to public safety concerns. “That’s not the protocol we use,” Trewella said.

Euthanized bears are not used for human consumption, as the tranquilizer used remains in the animal’s system. Sometimes, the bears will be used for education, Trewella said.

Regardless of how the bears are handled by the authorities, it’s important that residents become educated on the animals and how to protect themselves, their families and their property from roaming black bears.

For more information on black bears, visit the Pennsylvania Game Commission at www.pgc.state.pa.us