Saturday, January 28th, 2023
Saturday, January 28th, 2023

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Big black bear becomes roadkill in Northeast Ohio

Division of Wildlife authorities in northeast Ohio estimated the bear weighed nearly 300 pounds, making it one of the larger bruins the agency has handled. (Photo courtesy DOW)

New Lyme, Ohio — The last thing many Northeast Ohio citizens expect to encounter is a black bear, though with the number of the latter inching upward such encounters are becoming more numerous.

Even so, most folks would believe there’s no better than a snowball chance in heck that a black bear would become roadkill at the end of December in the heart of Northeast Ohio’s Snowbelt. That is just what happened, however, when a black bear estimated to be between 230 and 250 pounds was struck and killed near the junction of routes 11 and 6 in Ashtabula County’s New Lyme Township.

Almost certainly the fact that this location is a meager one mile from the Ohio Division of Wildlife’s 726-acre New Lyme Wildlife Area, and the probability exists that the bruin had taken up permanent residence in or near the wild and woolly hunting and fishing reserve.

But at the end of December – and just days after the immediate area was tortured by a winter cyclone that saw sub-zero temperatures, gale-force winds, and snow drifts higher than an elephant’s eye? For sure, said, biologists with the Ohio Division of Wildlife.

“Excluding mountainous areas, bears in most eastern states do not go into a true hibernation state. The reason being is because Ohio overall has a pretty mild winter with warm days here and there compared to the western states, which have colder and snowier winters,” said wildlife division resource technician Lauire Brown. “Yes, we had blizzard-like conditions with a record setting wind chill right before Christmas, but within about four days afterward temperatures started to warm back up.”

Consequently, Brown said her guess “is the bear hunkered down during the cold snap, but as soon as it got warm again, he/ she decided to get up and go look for food. Unfortunately, the bear met its demise.”

The other thing the wildlife division is beginning to wonder about, said Brown, is whether bait piles used to attract deer during the deer-hunting season are also impacting bear movement.

As more hunters begin submitting more trail camera photos of bears that are visiting bait piles all year long, the wildlife division is beginning to wonder if such easy pickings are “keeping bears from hibernating because they have an available food source,” Brown opined.

“When they know that food is available and they have easy access to it, they most likely don’t have a need to hibernate or hold up somewhere unless the weather is really bad,” Brown said.

“We should consider when putting bait out is that minimum bait equals not only less opportunity for disease spread and fewer negative impacts on other wildlife in the area but also the potential effects on bear-denning and hibernation,” she said.

All of which may very well conspire to drive dynamics of how bears move about, even in winter, said Geoff Westerfield, the game management supervisor for the wildlife division’s District Three (Northeast Ohio) office in Akron.

“It’s crazy how many bears get hit out there on Ohio’s roads,” Westerfield said.

That also makes sense, Brown said, adding that the state has seen no fewer than 39 bears killed in the state since 1995.

Similarly, said Brown, 30 of those 39 bears were road-kills of which 14 died on Ashtabula County highways and byways.

It is further telling that last year there were 20 confirmed bear sightings in Ashtabula County, up from the five in 2021, though the same as in 2020 but still nine more than in 2019.

“One bear population growth barrier we see as a possibility in Ohio is the number of roads. The more roads you have – and higher speed limits – the more road-kill animals you will have,” Brown said.

To illustrate, Brown notes that Ohio ranks fifth in the nation with road density per state size as well as eighth in vehicle miles traveled per state size.

“The problem for the bears is that they love to use those same roadways as their travel routes, too,” Westerfield said.

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