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Bear encounters

July 2, 2013

DAMASCUS, PA — Casey and Sally Halma of Beaver Lake in Damascus Township, PA stopped by The River Reporter offices last week wanting to share their photos of a peaceful encounter with a mother black bear and her two cubs. It happened on Friday, June 21 in early afternoon in their yard when the bear came right up to their porch steps. They saw her scratching in the grass where a bird feeder had spilled over.

“We didn’t even know the two cubs were there,” explained Casey, “until she stood up and scratched at the tree, and we saw two cubs climb down.”

“These are the first bears we’ve seen this year,” he added.

He told how one year they watched as a mother bear was showing her cubs how to get berries from a blueberry bush. “She was bending down the bush for them to reach the berries, and they were standing up eating.”

And even though the Halma’s have seen bears many number of times over their 11 years living in Damascus Township, “It’s always exciting no matter how often we see them,” Sally reported.

“We also have a new fawn and mother this year,” Casey said. “And last year we had a hen turkey with 12 young ones.”

Ah, life in the country!

A call to the PA Game Commission northeast region resulted in some advice about encountering bears.

“We want people to minimize the opportunity for bears to be attracted to your area. We want them to stay in the woods, not in your back yard,” said William Williams, information and education supervisor.

“They’re notorious for raiding bird feeders, and they love black sunflower seeds better than just about anything,” he continued. “When people do have a bear encounter, we ask them to cease feeding the birds for a while until the bear moves along.” Bears also love trash that’s left overnight and outdoor grills.

“Generally, black bears are good natured,” Williams said, although he acknowledged that they’re big enough to hurt you. That said, “We haven’t had a fatality since prior to 1900 in Pennsylvania, when we started keeping records.”

He addressed what he called the “myth” that mother bears are any more dangerous when they’re with cubs. She might false charge you, he indicated, but that’s probably all. Usually, a bear is more dangerous when it’s agitated, perhaps in an encounter with a barking dog.

Still, he advised people to be cautious, and ended with this advice: don’t approach a bear.