Venture: Black bears in Ohio

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

Hunting, development and public fear led to the extirpation of black bears from Ohio by about 1850, but the legendary mammals are coming back to Buckeye land slowly but surely, according to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources.

"It's a good sign because it means the land is healing itself and the forest is regenerating," said Suzanne Prange, an ODNR wildlife biologist who studies bears and other big carnivores. "They're coming back on their own, and it's a natural process."

Rogue males in search of unclaimed territory often wander in from Pennsylvania and West Virginia; each of those states holds more than 15,000 bears. More recently, females spotted with cubs confirm that Ohio sustains a small breeding population.

Males weigh up to 300 pounds and stand up to six feet, while females are substantially smaller. Because they hibernate in winter, they sometimes spend up to 20 hours a day eating vegetation, insects, carrion, berries and seed.

Abundant habitat but slow reproduction means the resident population will increase gradually, said Prange, who added that ODNR instituted a bear-monitoring program several years ago. If you're hiking in Eastern Ohio, you might get to see one of the 100 or so now living here.

Bear Essentials

Black bears are fascinating creatures that signal good things for Ohio ecosystems. While in the woods, remember:

They're attracted by food. Never, ever feed bears. Keep camps clean and store food out of reach.

They don't like to be surprised. When alone in the woods, make noise by clapping your hands, talking loudly or singing.

They can be curious. If you see one, don't run. Leave it alone. Try to make yourself as tall as possible by waving arms or raising your pack. Avoid direct eye contact.

They're rarely aggressive. If one does approach, start shouting and throwing sticks or rocks.

How to Hang a Bear Bag

To store food away from hungry critters, use the Pacific Crest Trail technique. It's easy, reliable and requires basic equipment: 50 feet of parachute cord, a stuff sack and one carabineer.

1. Find a tree with a branch extending at least 10 feet from the trunk and 20 feet above the ground.

2. While the sun's still out, tie the rope around a fist-sized rock or an empty stuff sack. Keeping hold of the rope's back end, throw the weighted line over the branch so it comes down the other side. Tie the sides together and enjoy your meal.

3. After eating, remove the weight and tie a loop in one end of the rope. Put everything with a scent into the stuff sack. Attach the sack to the loop with a carabineer and fit the rope's other side through the metal clip.

4. Hoist the bag to the branch and step on the rope to keep it from sliding. Tie a sturdy stick - at least an inch thick and six inches long - across the rope as high as you can reach. Most use a clove hitch or a cleat knot.

5. Let the bag drop until the stick catches the carabineer on its way up. The bag should be at least 10 feet off the ground. To get it down, simply pull down on the rope and untie the stick.