Maryland black bear population up 94 percent in western counties as sightings reported elsewhere

Young black bears spotted in Howard County

Black bears have many interesting traits.

They have keen eyesight, can run as fast as 60 mph and enjoy eating 15,000 calories a day.

Male and females only like being around each other during mating season -- a mating season that has been quite productive over the last decade in Maryland.

Since 2005, the population has grown steadily, increasing 94 percent in the state’s western counties, according to black bear experts from the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.

With a healthier bear population, experts say the bears are controlled despite apprehension from residents.

According to the DNR black bear report for 2013, the total number of adult and teenage bears in Garrett and Allegany  counties grew from 300 to 701.

Ken D'Loughy, of the Wildlife Heritage Unit for DNR, said reproduction has been healthy because of the state’s improving ecosystem.

“As the environment- mainly forests-have improved, we are seeing the uptick,” he said.

As the black bear population increases, D'Loughy added the creatures will expand into other parts of the state.

Young black bears are being spotted around other parts of Maryland. This week, residents in Howard County reported sightings in their backyard.

D'Loughy said the sightings are normal during the summer months. In the last three years, bear sightings have been seen in Montgomery and Baltimore Counties.

“If you spot a bear, the best thing to do is leave it alone,” he said. “Male bears tend to be territorial and are scoping things out.”

DNR officials have received four calls from people who saw small bears in the first week of June.

Those included sightings in Columbia, one sighting near U.S. 29, and two in Ellicott City.

To handle complaints with bears, a nuisance response plan was implemented in 1996. A year later, a bear response team was formed to deal with “human-bear” conflicts 24 hours a day.

In 1995, the Maryland General Assembly passed legislation requiring DNR to implement a bear compensation fund, with funding coming from the sale of black bear stamps and other related merchandise.

“It was set up to help farmers who had damage caused from bears,” D'Loughy  said. “We still use it when needed.”

Despite efforts to help victims of bear attacks, revenue from the program has been low, according to the status report.  Stamp sales have generally been poor, never providing enough money to provide 100 percent compensation.

Matthew Tiffeau, of the Maryland Farm Bureau, said wildlife causes about $500,000 worth of farm damage a year.

He estimates about $100,000 of that comes from the bear population.

“Deers are the number one trigger,” he said. “But bears... they’re a close second.”

Tiffeau said the damage caused by bears can be hard to spot. The animal likes to destroy crops and will go into the center of a field to find food.

“I’ve seen it firsthand,” he said. “A bear will go in the middle of a corn field, eat it and then roll around in it.”

Tiffeau said the Maryland Farm Bureau is working with DNR to help provide better compensation for farmers with damaged property from wildlife.


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