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March 23, 2017

Yes, more bears are moving into Southeastern Pennsylvania — but don't freak out

Your official #BearWatch2017 preview

If you found last year's news coverage of frequent bear sightings in the Philadelphia suburbs unbearable (nailed it), then you might want to hibernate (again!) from local media for the next few months.

That's because #BearWatch2016 wasn't a fluke. The animals are slowly but surely inching into Southeastern Pennsylvania.

The prevalence of bear sightings in the region has been increasing during the past few years because "our bear population has been increasing over the past several decades," said Dustin Stoner, information and educational supervisor for the Pennsylvania Game Commission's southeastern offices.

Habitats in the region have changed, making them more friendly to the state's population of about 20,000 black bears, who seek out new territories for mating and food.

"The southeast region has been, in the last century, fairly vacant of bears, and they're gradually finding some areas they can find food and shelters and establish themselves," Stoner said.

How close to Philly are they setting up shop? It's tough to say, Stoner said, as it isn't always clear when bears are spotted whether they're just passing through or have found a new home.

Bears also could be established in areas the game commission isn't aware of.

For example, Stoner noted the bear spotted wandering around Radnor Township for several months last year before game commission agents trapped it and relocated it to Dauphin County.

"That was as much for the bear’s sake as the people," he said. "In that area there isn't the quantity of habitat for the bear to exist without existing and encountering problems."

The most important thing for the public to do is not to freak out. Lots of bears live in close proximity to people, but dangerous encounters with humans are very, very rare.

The game commission has an entire web page dedicated to information on living with black bears, and what to do if one becomes a nuisance in your neighborhood – such as, if a bear frequently visits your home, remove any pet food, bird feeders or garbage from outside that might be attracting them.

"The public should not be fearful of bears in their areas," Stoner said. "Just leave the bears be. don't feed them, don't chase them, don’t harass them. If they become a nuisance, contact the game commission."