Drought Pushing Timid
Black Bears Into Big City Suburbs
By David Morgan

PHILADELPHIA (Reuters) - Drought is forcing so many black bears to rummage for food in the suburbs of New York and Philadelphia that Pennsylvania Thursday issued a public advisory on how suburbanites should cope with the large but timid creatures.
State officials said nearly 2,400 bear sightings have been reported so far this year in eastern Pennsylvania and northern New Jersey, particularly in upscale residential areas near the Delaware Water Gap, about 60 miles (96 km) west of Manhattan.
In New Jersey, sightings have nearly doubled from last year, mainly because of an exploding bear population that numbers about 10,000 animals between the two states.
Famished bears broke through kitchen screen doors at two homes around Stillwater, New Jersey, and one actually raided the refrigerator for a free meal of eggs and butter. Unusual sightings also have been reported in Maryland, where police spotted a bear only 10 miles (16 km) from downtown Baltimore.
``Bear sightings are not uncommon at this time of year,'' said Gary Alt, the Pennsylvania Game Commission's black bear biologist. ``And, if drought conditions worsen, Pennsylvanians are likely to see more bears as natural food sources wither.''
Weighing up to 600 pounds (272 kg) and hungry for anything from birdseed and insects to carrion and grass, black bears have seen their usual fare of blueberries and other wild fruits stunted by the driest growing season in at least a generation.
Dry conditions also have withered farm crops, which in other years might have limited the bears' wanderings to rural areas. As a result, suburban trash cans have become potential horns of plenty just as bears need to fatten up for winter.
The five-point advisory issued by the Pennsylvania Game Commission suggested people make sure not to leave garbage, table scraps or pet food outside overnight. It also asked that bird feeders be taken down, describing the seed-laden fixtures as ``bear magnets.''
``If a bear shows up in your backyard, stay calm. Shout at it like you would to chase an unwanted dog,'' the advisory said. If that fails to work, call the commission or the police.
Though powerful and potentially dangerous, black bears are more likely to be timid than aggressive, state officials said. There is no record of one ever killing anyone in Pennsylvania, and only 10 people have been reported injured by them in 25 years.
Hunters in Pennsylvania killed 2,600 black bears in 1998, while another 240 of the bears were killed by cars.