Bears are wild, beautiful and sometimes troubling

Posted on: August 4, 2017 | Bob Frye | Comments

This caught my attention.

We were visiting Ricketts Glen State Park, with hopes of hiking, fishing, paddling and camping. We didn’t get to do it all.

Afternoon rain showers and a campground already filled to capacity cut our day short and sent us elsewhere to stay the night.

Still, we had a good time.

But while there, I noticed one unusual thing.

Hanging in the park office was what at first seemed like the standard posting about not feeding wildlife. The sign, though, warned even daytrippers not to leave their vehicle windows cracked – you know how we all do, when it’s really hot outside – while visiting.

The local black bears have apparently become adept at inserting claws and paws into that opening and yanking windows down or out, looking for something to eat.

Pretty ingenious, if also destructive.

It also seems to me the kind of thing we’ll likely see more and more of going forward.

Black bear populations are growing, numerically and geographically, in many parts of the country. Human populations are, too.

That means bears and people sharing – if not outright competing – for the same space.

That’s got consequences, often bad ones for the bears.

In Colorado, for example, wildlife officials have already killed almost three dozen “nuisance” bears this year. That’s a common response in most places to dealing with bears hanging around people.

People are having to adapt, too.

In New York, for example, the Department of Environmental Conservation recently put out a news release warning campers and hikers of bears raiding campsites in some parts of the state.

It suggests ckeeping all food and even toiletries – bears are drawn to minty toothpaste and sweet-smelling deodorants – in bear-resistant canisters. It also warns against cooking and eating after dark or storing food near tents.

Carry bear spray it added.

Why? People aren’t suddenly being attacked or eaten by black bears in big numbers.

But that’s not unheard of, either.

A study published in The Journal of Wildlife Management a few years back noted that fatal black bear attacks on people are exceedingly rare. Yet, 86 percent of those documented between 1900 and 2009 had occurred in the most recent 50 years. And in 88 percent of cases, the bear attacked in hopes of getting a meal.

We’ve seen that behavior since.

A hiker was stalked, killed and partially eaten by a bear in New Jersey in 2014.

And just last month in Colorado, a 19-year-old camp counselor was sleeping in his tent when he awoke to a black bear grabbing him by the skull. Biologists – labeling the incident a predatory attack – said the bear was trying to drag him away from other campers to consume in peace.

The young man survived with only a few stitches.

But will we see more of that?

It’s undoubtedly true that people who go outdoors are still far more likely to be hurt driving to the woods than while exploring them. But with people and bears assuredly meeting more and more often, who knows?

Black bears are one of the country’s most beautiful and fascinating animals. There’s a place for them in the outdoors.

In the meantime, though, keep those windows all the way up.

Bob Frye is the editor. Reach him at 412-838-5148 or See other stories, blogs, videos and more at

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