Bear smashes glass, enters home; later trapped, moved

Pittsburgh — Wildlife watcher Gary Lang got a little more than he bargained for when a black bear crashed through the glass doors of his southwestern Pennsylvania home one recent night.

The incident occurred in Fawn Township, Allegheny County, an area that has seen an increase in the number of resident black bears, according to the Pennsylvania Game Commission. The first bear ever harvested in Allegheny County was a male shot in Fawn last year.

“I’ve had bears in that area for years but it seems in the past they were a little more transient,” said Dan Puhala, the wildlife conservation officer who trapped and transferred the yearling male from Lang’s home to Indiana County.

“Bears seem to like this area because it’s a river corridor with heavy woods. I’m thinking we’re starting to get a little more of an established population.”

Puhala received a few bear sighting reports in recent weeks, as sows prepare for mating season. Cubs stay with mothers for about 16 months, but are sent packing when mothers are ready to breed again.

“He was probably on his own for the first time and trying to find a place for himself,” Puhala said of the 65-pound male that invaded Lang’s home.

“He was a little brazen, which tells me he was getting comfortable with the area. He appeared to have developed a big liking for bird feeders, and there are plenty of them around.”

Lang’s birdfeeder had been raided just a couple of days before, and was smashed the night of the break-in, said Lang, who was awakened by the ruckus around 10:30 p.m. May 9.

“There was so much noise, it sounded like two people rolling around fighting,” said Lang. “I figured it wasn’t a burglar, because they’d be quiet about it.”

But not knowing what to expect, he grabbed a fireplace poker and crept down the stairs, only to find shards of glass from the door to his enclosed porch, clumps of bear fur, and scratches made from a big claw.

He called the Game Commission the next morning.  Puhala arrived with a steel-drum-style trap, a 5-gallon tub of doughnut glaze, and an assortment of pastries and cakes. 

“As soon as he took the lid off the doughnut glaze, you could smell how sweet it was,” said Lang. “The officer smiled and said, ‘He’ll know this is here.’”

So, apparently, would other critters, because the first captive was a raccoon. Lang re-baited the trap and hoped for the best. “When I got up the next day, I saw the trap had been sprung – the door was closed – and I went outside to check,” he said.

“I could smell the bear – I could smell his poop – before I even got close. When I looked through the observation hole, I saw he was sleeping.”

Lang said the bear woke up at his approach and tried to sniff him by sticking his nose through the peep hole.  “I was told one thing you shouldn’t do is look a bear directly in the eyes,” said Lang. “Sure enough, he brought his eyes level to mine, and that’s when he got riled up. 

He growled a little and charged a little, and I kept saying, ‘Easy boy, easy boy.’ I didn’t feel threatened because those drums are solid steel.”

Puhala tranquilized the bear, applied ear tags and a lip tattoo, had a tooth extracted so it could be precisely aged, and then transported it to Indiana County for release. “I wanted to take it far enough that it wouldn’t go back to the same area,” he said.

With Pennsylvania’s bear population seemingly expanding, people are urged to minimize the potential to attract bears, by strapping down garbage can lids and bringing in bird feeders at night, said Puhala.

“People should be a little more forward-thinking about what they leave out. If there’s a food supply, bears are going to come in.”

The bear that crashed through Lang’s door was a first for Puhala, but he said a conservation officer in another part of the state reported a bear going through a screened window to get to pies a woman was cooling on her porch.

The game commission voted in April to extend the bear hunting season in many parts of the state, including most of Allegheny County. Starting this fall, deer hunters with bear hunting licenses will be able to harvest bears during both archery and rifle deer seasons.

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