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Kammermeyer: Young black bears pushed south early

POSTED: May 28, 2009 7:41 p.m.

Bears are in the news again; on TV it is mostly in Gwinnett and Cobb Counties so far this year. But, according to DNR Wildlife Biologists Kevin Lowrey and Scott Frazier, Hall and surrounding counties have also had their share of less advertised bear activity and sightings including one near Lula and one near Wauka Mountain.

Forsyth County also had a bear road killed on Highway 400 about a week ago and picked up illegally by an unknown motorist. Another bear was more recently sighted last weekend east of Cumming near Lake Forest Subdivision. It was last seen swimming across a cove on the west side of Lake Lanier. Yes, bears are very good swimmers! Dahlonega has a nuisance bear and so does the Blood Mountain trail shelter on the Appalachian Trail.

This big bear has learned to tear into hiker’s properly stored food supplies suspended above the ground by chewing through the rope and dropping food to the ground for dinner. Recently, six or eight campers yelling and jumping up and down failed to run the bear off of their food.

Yonah Mountain in White County harbors a sow with a big family of four yearling cubs that are getting into trouble. They entered a house through an unlocked door and made a mess of the kitchen cabinets, extracting all the food they could possibly find! This behavior is rare and the bad news is this unusual boldness is dangerous for both people and bears.

DNR Game Management trapped two of the bears in one trap, tagged them and moved them to more remote bear habitat on Richard Russell Highway.

Normally, this is far enough to keep them from finding their way back home but that was not the case this time. All five bears were seen together again not long after the move. Sometimes the stress of the trap, tranquilizer and ear tagging, weighing and other manipulation by humans is enough to deter any further nuisance activities by the offending bears.

With this bear family, this remains to be seen.

It is too early for this much increased activity around Gainesville. June is the main month for southward dispersal of yearling bears into suburbs, so officials are worried that the greatest bear activity may lie ahead at least until the blackberries ripen and provide their main early wild food supply.

Mostly, the suburb damage is done by displaced young male bears pushed out their normal mountain range by dominant male bears and their own mothers during the June breeding season.

They wander through suburbs seeking food in the form of bird feeders, barbeque grills, pet food and garbage cans. Practice your own preventative measures by removing or securing all of these items especially bird feeders and garbage. Take down bird feeders for the summer and move trash cans behind locked doors.

Bolt or lock all outbuildings and doors in the home. Do not under any circumstances feed bears! It is dangerous for you and a death sentence for the bears who gradually lose their fear of people. Left alone with no food available, all bears will wander away without incident.

This area is not bear habitat and the bears know it! They get here by mistake pushed away from mama bear because of breeding season and they get out of here on purpose if they can find a way out.

River systems including the Chattahoochee, Chestatee, Etowah and Oconee are their preferred normal travel corridors because of wooded flood plains with less human development and activity.

Occasionally, wildlife biologists are reluctantly forced by the media and police departments to chase suburban bears around with dart guns attempting to catch the animals and relocate them back to the mountains where they came from. This is mostly a futile effort and bad for the bears, sometimes pushing them into traffic and dogs.

They often end up dead on the highway or wandering aimlessly even worse than before looking for a way out of their suburban predicament. If they are successfully captured, they are most often inadvertently transported and dumped in unfamiliar territory in the home range of a dominant male bear who promptly runs them out and the process starts all over again.

Despite wearing ear tags, few transported bears are ever heard from again.

Young black bears on the move seem to have a habit of getting into all sorts of minor trouble in the springtime – raiding bee hives, garbage cans, backyard bird feeders or camping areas, or maybe just wandering through town on a Saturday night looking for an escape route.

Fortunately, however, they are mostly very fearful of humans and dogs and try to avoid them at all costs. They are totally driven by food, not aggression or meanness, unlike grizzly bears which do not occur in Georgia or anywhere in the Eastern U.S.



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