If you see a black bear in Highland County — a rarity growing more common in recent years — enjoy the moment, but give the animal distance and let it know you’re there, a local state wildlife officer said.
With increased sightings of black bears around the state, Jim Carnes, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources wildlife officer assigned to Highland County, said it’s important for people to know how to react in the event of an encounter.
The most important thing to do, Carnes said, is to keep at a careful distance and speak loudly and clearly.
“Typically, they’re not going to be aggressive, they’re not going to be destructive,” he said.
Bears by nature are mainly vegetarian, he said, especially when they come out of hibernation in the spring.
“There are lots of sightings of bears eating fresh greens and grass as they come out of hibernation,” he said. “They’re working to get their digestive system up and running.”
Carnes said it’s important to understand the animal and give it the respect it deserves by letting it pass through.
“Give respect to the animal and give them the right of way,” he said.
One incident in which a black bear was not given that right of way resulted in it being hit by a car in Adams County, Carnes said.
This one was an older bear, according to Carnes, which is not typical in this area. Most black bears in the region are young males who have been kicked out of their dens when their mothers re-breed, Carnes said.
“She’ll push them out, and they’ll have the mindset of a teenager, wandering around, looking for a new home,” he said.
There are two types of bear sightings, Carnes said: Confirmed sightings with photographs or other evidence, and unconfirmed sightings that amount to a report of a black bear in the area.
In the last five to eight years, Carnes said, officials have noted more consistent routes that bears travel while passing through the area.
“Here in Highland, it stays a lot on the southeastern edge and the northeastern edge,” he said. “We’ve got them, and they’re moving through.”
Carnes said bears passing through the area typically hit the edges of Brushcreek, Marshall and Jackson townships along the Highland/Ross County border.
“Once they hit that area, then they get on the edge of Appalachia, and they swing back around and head back into the hills,” he said.
Two or three black bears that have been sighted in the region may be locals, Carnes said, but they aren’t regularly in Highland County. One has been sighted in Adams and Scioto counties, and another in Pike County.
Carnes said on average there are roughly two confirmed sightings per year in Highland County.
Reach David Wright at 937-402-2570.