More bears make tracks in Ohio as population grows

CLEVELAND - A booming black bear population in neighboring states is pushing more bears into Ohio.

The number of sightings in Ohio are on the rise and expected to increase in coming years, wildlife experts say. Ohio's Division of Wildlife says black bear sightings have jumped from only about 30 in 1998 to 152 a year ago.

Most of the black bears have been found in the eastern half of the state, but some have been tracked as far west as Dayton.

Bears in search of their own territories are coming from Pennsylvania and West Virginia, and young males are known to wander more than 100 miles, experts told The Plain Dealer .

"They're just like teenage boys," said state wildlife research biologist Suzie Prange. "They're out there on their own for the first time and they're looking for a girlfriend."

State wildlife officials estimate that there are 50 to 100 black bears living in Ohio, but most of those spotted are young males. Those are the ones who are more likely to get into trouble by going into neighborhoods and knocking over garbage cans and bird feeders, Prange said.

A young black bear was spotted last week in suburban Cleveland outside an apartment building.

Wildlife experts think there is a small number of breeding females in Ohio, but it's difficult to be certain because females are more reclusive, Prange said

Black bear populations are growing nationwide, and some states have expanded hunting. Florida removed black bears from its endangered species list in June.

Laurie Graber, a researcher with the state Division of Wildlife, said she bear the comeback in Ohio will be slow because of the low breeding population in Ohio.

State researchers are working to track two bears -- one each in northeast and southeast Ohio -- with GPS devices to understand their movements.

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