Bear Tactics

Bear Tactics

Black bear sightings are a cause for caution, not panic, officials say.

Deer strolling casually through back yards is one thing, but a black bear? That is one thing that Rob Doherty was surprised to hear was in his Regency Estates neighborhood.

“There has been a lot of talk about it,” said Doherty. “Mostly [we see] just lots of deer, and the occasional fox.”

Seven reports of a young black bear were reported in four days on the fringes of Potomac, Rockville and Bethesda last week. The first three sightings were reported within and hour and a half of each other beginning just after 5 p.m. on Wednesday, June 27 in neighborhoods on the border of Rockville and Potomac. The first occurred in the 11800 block of Coldstream Drive, the second in the 11800 block of Enid Drive, and the third in the 11800 block of Gainsborough Road, according to Montgomery County police. Montgomery County Animal Control officers and Maryland National Capital Park Police searched the areas where the bear was spotted but found nothing, according to police.

The following day another small black bear was reported at 7:39 p.m. a block east of Old Georgetown Road on Lone Oak Drive in Bethesda, and four minutes later another call came in reporting a bear cub running across Old Georgetown Road near the Wildwood Square shopping center, said Melanie Hadley, a spokesperson for Montgomery County Police.

On Sunday, June 30 two calls came in to police reporting a small black bear in Bethesda and Potomac. The first report was made from the 6700 block of Newbold Drive at 3:55 p.m., the second call reported the bear on Gainsborough Road, Hadley said. Police have no way of knowing for sure if the bear was the same one in each report, but the descriptions in each case were similar, Hadley said.

“Around this time of year we tend to get these calls, so it’s not uncommon at all,” Hadley said.

“THE THING about young bears when is that when they disperse [from their mothers] they sometimes have to wander pretty far afield to find a territory that is unoccupied,” said Leslie Sturges, a naturalist at the Locust Grove Nature Center in Cabin John Regional Park. As a result, many bears that wander into urban areas are often young bears lost in search of new territory, and sightings in this area tend to happen every couple of years, Sturges said.

Black bears are omnivorous, foraging animals, Sturges said. They prefer to eat berries, nuts, roots, insects and fish although in urban and suburban areas they will also eat roadkill. They are not aggressive animals and do not pose an inherent threat to humans.

“They’re generally wary, they don’t really want to encounter you more than you want to encounter them,” said Sturges. For that reason, the chances of seeing a bear up close and in person are fairly small. “Bears have a really good sense of smell. … They’re generally going to know you’re coming before you are and get out of the way,” said Sturges.

SEVERAL OF THE recent sightings occurred in the backyards of suburban homes, according to police. Sturges said that in urban and suburban areas what attracts bears to people’s homes are easy sources of food — bird feeders, pet food, and smelly trash cans.

“Our best advice is just to keep everything out of your backyard,” Hadley said.

In the off chance that people do come across a black bear, Hadley said the important thing is not to panic.

“It’s important to stay calm and realize they are probably much more scared of us then we are of them,” Hadley said. “It’s not going to attack your pet or you. … Just bang some pots or shout and make loud noises and it will go away.”

Going away is precisely what Sturges expects this bear — or bears — to do.

“The bear that’s wandering around here — I would tend to think he might be a little confused,” Sturges said. “At some point it’s going to meet its comfort level and probably it would make its way out [of the area]. They get out of their league and then they kind of retreat.”