Plenty of good food and a friendly, diverse environment has helped Western Pennsylvania’s bear population blossom over the years — to the benefit of hunters and the chagrin of some homeowners.
Although the state’s largest bear population is in the state’s northeast and northcentral counties and the Poconos, “there isn’t a township or municipality in all of Butler County where there hasn’t been a bear citing or some type of complaint recently,” said Randy Pilarcik, a wildlife conservation officer.
Pilarcik said the state’s pro-bear flora and fauna has caused a unique situation where bears grow to be larger than the average around the country. And, he said, they have more cubs.
As the bear population grows, Pilarcik said, they are spreading into areas they otherwise would have avoided, such as rural neighborhoods or city streets. Backyard bird feeders, for example, can be a black bear draw.
“They will go where the food is good,” Pilarcik said. “Unfortunately, that can be in town’s dumpsters.”
Rick Carson, the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources chief ranger at Moraine State Park, said as recently as a decade ago, it was unusual to have a resident bear at Moraine State Park. Bears would travel through the park, but not set up shop.
Now, there always are about six to eight bears calling the park home, generally in the north shore area. But Carson laughs, the resident population doesn’t guarantee a bear citing.
“People come up from Pittsburgh and say, ‘Where are the bears?’” Carson said. “Bears are shy and timid creatures that generally run from people. They can run for miles .... They’re also nocturnal. And they don’t move much during the day unless they’re pushed.”
Just seeing a bear in Moraine is on the rare side, Carson said, and there has never been an attack.
Carson said generally, one or two bears are harvested legally by hunters in the park each year. Although none was taken there last year, Carson said two of the park’s resident bears were killed by vehicles during the hunting season, one on Route 422 and one on Interstate 79.
“I’d rather see them harvested by hunters than have to pick them off the roadways after they’ve been hit by a car,” Carson said.
This year’s state bear rifle season is Nov. 17-21.
Statewide, between 3,000 and 3,500 bears are generally killed during rifle season.
Annually, about a dozen bears are harvested here in Butler County.
The average bear killed in Butler County is 250 to 300 pounds, with hunters boasting bears as big as 800 pounds and as small as 50 pounds.
Pilarcik said the number of bears harvested in this county definitely is up over past decades, and locally hunters have been harvesting record or near record number of bears each season.
Those who harvest bear have 24 hours to get them to a check-in station run by the Pennsylvania State Game Commission. There, officials weigh and tag the bears and pull a tooth to later determine the bear’s age.
County residents have been spoiled in recent years by having check-in stations in the county that were here because of construction at the regional office in Franklin, Venango County. Now that the construction is done, there will be no stations in this county this year. The nearest check-in station will be the regional office at 1509 Pittsburgh Road, Franklin.
Experts say the best advice they can give to those hoping to kill a bear during the hunting season is to look for rich food supply areas. Bears love acorns, corn and honey.
“That might make it difficult because there’s such a rich food supply this year ... it is everywhere,” Pilarcik said.
“Successful bear hunters need to do some thorough scouting.”