Officials report Ohio’s black bears are here to stay

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Ohio’s wildlife officials keep close track on the health and well-being of Ohio’s fairly recently established resident black bears.

A recently completed summary of reported and confirmed sightings allows the Division of Wildlife to study a slowly growing population of Ohio bears. The number of reported black bear sightings recorded in 2014 is significantly less than in 2013.

From the reported sightings, officials were able to confirm almost half. Could less sightings mean less bears are residing in Ohio or perhaps that the state’s black bears are getting better at staying out of sight, and out of trouble?

The answer is neither.

Confirmed sightings

Actually, confirmed sightings are the only ones that really count. When all numbers are crunched it is evident that there is a slight increase in the real number of animals year to year. Of course, not every bear living in Ohio is seen each year.

Sightings in 2014 involved 88 individual black bears, up from 74 in 2013. The actual number of individual bears is a subjective but educated judgment. Sightings are confirmed by wildlife officials using hard evidence such as tracks, scat, photos, video, etc. Obviously, more real evidence played an important part in the bear count as a higher percent of sightings were confirmed. Credit an ever-increasing number of active trail cams for that.

Sixty (44 percent) of the 135 sightings in 2014 were confirmed by Division of Wildlife personnel. The number of counties involved, however, was comparable to that of the previous year. These 60 confirmed sightings represented an estimated 42 bears in 20 counties. For comparison, (34 percent) or 54 of 158 sightings in 2013 were confirmed for an estimated 28 bears in 23 counties.

Trail cameras

The number one source for verification of bear sightings was and continues to be trail cameras. Damage that could only be caused by a bear collectively also accounts for a huge portion of confirmations. Thirty-four (26 percent of the 135 observations in 2014) involved nuisance or damage situations. These 34 complaints involved an estimated 28 individual bears in 10 counties. Two bears died as a result from being struck by vehicles, one each in Mahoning and Washington counties.

Black bear sightings were received during every month in 2014 with over half reported from May through July, representing prime time in a bear’s calendar for breeding activity and the dispersal of juvenile males. A few adult bears were sighted with juveniles or yearlings. In addition, ten lone cubs were reported.

Eastern counties

Ohio’s black bears are, for the most part, living in the eastern counties with the highest concentrations in the northeast (Ashtabula and Trumbull counties) and ranging south along the Pennsylvania line and the Ohio River. For the first time ever, a lone bear was reported last year in Hamilton County. Since 1993 bears have been sighted at least once in 64 Ohio counties and confirmed in 53 of them.

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Mike Tontimonia has been writing weekly columns and magazine features about the outdoors for over 25 years, a career that continues to hold the same excitement for him as it did at the beginning. Mike is a retired educator, a licensed auctioneer and marketing consultant. He lives in Ravenna, Ohio and enjoys spending time at his Carroll County cabin. Mike has hunted and fished in several states and Canada from the Carolinas to Alaska and from Idaho to Delaware. His readers have often commented that the stories about his adventures are about as close to being there as possible. He is past president of the Outdoor Writers of Ohio and a member of the Outdoor Writers Association of America. Mike is also very involved in his community as a school board member and a Rotarian.

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