| Outdoors |
PHOTOS COURTESY OF ALABAMA DEPARTMENT OF CONSERVATION AND NATURAL RESOURCES
Bears on the move
As bear and human populations increase, so do contacts
s weather improves, more Alabamians venture outdoors to enjoy hiking, picnicking, turkey hunting, fishing and other activities, but they are not alone! Another very large, toothy Alabama resident could watch their every move. “Historically, black bears lived throughout the entire state,” says Thomas Harms, the top large carnivore biologist for the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. “The population in Alabama is expanding.” Harms estimates that 400 or so black bears live in the state. Probably about 300 bears live in Baldwin, Mobile, Washington and Monroe counties. Another 50 to 100 live in the Little River Canyon area of northeastern Alabama. Others may wander through just about any county at times. John N. Felsher lives in Semmes, Ala. Contact him through Facebook.
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Most Alabama male bears weigh about 300 to 350 pounds and females about 100 pounds less. Compare that to grizzlies, which could exceed 1,500 pounds and stand more than nine feet tall. While not as big as their giant cousins, black bears still pose a serious danger to anyone who crosses their paths. Incredibly powerful predators with big claws and teeth, black bears can kill people and cause extensive property damage if they wish. Fortunately, attacks rarely happen. Actually quite shy, the official Alabama state mammal characteristically tries to avoid people. A bear could live near a residential area and no one will see it. “The last thing a bear wants to see is a human,” Harms says. “We haven’t had any bear attacks in Alabama in modern times. Like most animals, bears have a natural fear of people. It’s surprising how well such a large animal can remain hidden. People can go in the woods every day and not see a bear, but the bear probably sees the per-
son every time. They know when a person is in the woods and they want to get away as quickly as they can.” Some hikers carry whistles or horns with them to frighten off any bears they might see. Others carry pepper spray as a last resort. Anyone who does spot a bear in the forests should just leave it alone and go somewhere else. “A bear is not out to eat a human,” Harms says. “If you stumble upon a bear in the woods, let it know you are there so it can get away. Give the bear space. Back away from it. Don’t turn and run away from it because that could trigger a predatory instinct in the bear.” However, as the bear and human populations continue to grow, the two species might bump into each other more frequently, particularly in places like Mobile County with large human and bear populations. Most bear-human encounters typically involve food. An omnivore, a bear will eat practically anything. www.alabamaliving.coop