Bear (or bears) looking for love wander into Richmond and Berea

jwarren@herald-leader.comJune 8, 2014 

060716madisonbear

A 2-year-old male black bear wandered around Madison County in late June, 2006. This is mating season for the animals, and many males hit the road to find one at this time of year.

JOE LACEFIELD — Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife

A bear, or maybe more than one, has been sighted repeatedly in Madison County this month, but a state wildlife official says that's probably no surprise.

Richmond police said they got calls about a black bear wandering through yards on the north side of town June 1 and June 2.

Berea police said they got calls starting Thursday about bear sightings in various places there. Police Sgt. Jake Reed said a bear was seen near Exit 77 on Interstate 75. Later, a bear also was spotted near Exit 77, he said.

It was unclear whether the Berea sightings involved one or more bears, or whether the animal seen in Berea was the same one sighted earlier in Richmond.

Seeing bears in or near urban areas at this time of year isn't so unusual anymore in Kentucky, according to Steven Dobey, bear program manager for the Kentucky Division of Fish and Wildlife Resources.

"Year-old male bears tend to go roaming in May and June, out on their own for the first time and trying to establish their home range," Dobey said. "But June also is when breeding season starts to kick in, so older, bigger bears also are out looking for females anywhere they can."

Dobey says that's why bears may pop up now in urban areas where people don't expect to see them.

Fortunately, he said, wandering bears usually realize that they aren't welcome and soon head for friendlier territory back in the mountains of Eastern Kentucky.

"Generally, they don't want to be here, I can assure you of that," he said.

Kentucky's black bear population has been growing for about a dozen years.

Bears abandoned the state about a century ago, crowded out by timber cutting and human habitation. But bears started slipping back into Southeastern Kentucky from Virginia and West Virginia starting in the late 1990s.

They started to be seen in mainly rural counties about a decade ago, and now seem to be working their way toward more urban areas.

No one knows how many bears live in Kentucky. But results from a three-year study should provide a good estimate when they become available later this summer, according to Dobey.

Kentucky's bear population is concentrated in mountain counties east of the Daniel Boone National Forest, and probably will remain there. Except for late spring and early summer, when the young males go out in search of adventure.

If you do see a bear, enjoy the experience, but keep your distance, Dobey advises.

Above all, never feed a bear.

That's not only illegal in Kentucky, it can lead to real problems. Bears that get regular handouts soon catch on to the availability of free food, and are likely to stay around and get into trouble with humans, Dobey said.

"Those are the ones we have to go in and deal with," he said.

Jim Warren: (859) 231-3255.

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