Male black bears are on the move — and the Ohio Division of Wildlife is warning residents, especially those in Northeast Ohio, to bear-proof their yards.
Black bear sightings rise during the summer months because young males are wandering around looking to claim a new territory after being run off by their mothers who are getting ready to give birth again.
"We see this every year," said Jamey Emmert, spokeswoman with the Division of Wildlife District 3 headquarters in Coventry Township.
About 70 different black bears — which are an endangered species in Ohio and protected by state law — are reported each year in the Buckeye State. There already have been about a dozen sightings this year, with most of them in Ashtabula, Geauga and Lake counties, Emmert said.
Most of the bears are traveling west from Pennsylvania and West Virginia, although some are coming from Kentucky, she said.
Wildlife officials are asking residents to take several precautions to reduce the chance of bears frequenting an area and getting into conflicts with pets and people. Bears often will damage bird feeders, so wildlife officials say it's best to remove all bird feeders and stop feeding birds between Memorial Day and Labor Day.
They also advise people to remove uneaten pet food from outdoors, keep trash inside until pickup day, clean up after grilling and have dogs on leashes so they don't chase after a bear.
Black bears, which are more active at dusk, dawn and night, aren't aggressive by nature. Emmert called them "overgrown raccoons."
"Whenever given the opportunity, they turn tail and run as quick as they can," she said. "They don't know how big they are, which is great."
If people encounter a black bear, they can clap their hands and wave their arms in the air to try to scare it away, Emmert said. But she added that it's important to give a bear space and an escape route.
Bears that feel trapped or threatened will do a "bluff charge," she said.
"The young males freak out and they really don't know exactly what to do," Emmert said. "They will run toward someone or something and pretend they're going to attack and run forward and stop and clap their teeth together and sort of huff or woof. And that means they are really upset. That is absolutely a classic sign that the bear needs its space."
The Division of Wildlife wants people to contact the state agency to report sightings and share photos at http://wildlife.ohiodnr.gov.
"We need to be able to track and compare one year to the next if our sightings are up or down," Emmert said.
But just because sightings are up or down, it doesn't mean that there are more or fewer bears. It could be one active bear being seen quite often.
Last year, a 400-pound bear caused a stir as it wandered through Northeast Ohio, damaging bird feeders and going through garbage in Brecksville, Hudson and Wadsworth. Its life came to a tragic end in June when it was hit by a vehicle on Interstate 77 in Akron.
For more information about black bears, go to: http://wildlife.ohiodnr.gov/species-and-habitats/nuisance-wildlife/black-bears-in-ohio.
Rick Armon can be reached at 330-996-3569 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @armonrickABJ.