Wildlife Conservation Officer Gerald Kapral wasn’t too concerned when he received a call that a small bear had wandered into a barrel-style live trap he had set in a mobile home park in Franklin Township last week.
After all, Kapral figured the bear would be a cub and he would have to release it so it could rejoin its mother.
But when Kapral arrived on the scene, he encountered something totally different — four bears in the trap.
“I knew there was a sow and three cubs in the area, but I never expected to catch them all at once,” Kapral said. “I caught three cubs in a trap once in Monroe County, but catching four was a first for me.”
But not a first for the northeast region this year. Another Luzerne County WCO, Phil White, also captured three cubs and a sow in a trap earlier this summer. Biologist Kevin Wenner said such catches are unusual, but not unheard of, considering Pennsylvania’s healthy bear population.
“When it happens, generally the cubs get in there and don’t set off the trap,” Wenner said. “The larger sow then goes in to see what her cubs are doing, and she’ll set it off.”
Kapral’s bears were processed and tagged at the PGC Northeast Region headquarters in Dallas before they were released on State Game Lands 187 in Dennison Township — an area he hopes is far enough away to prevent them from returning to the mobile home park where they generated complaints from residents.
White, whose district also includes Luzerne County, also produced a four-bear catch in a trap he set in Pittston Township at the end of July. White’s bears — a sow and three cubs, weren’t tagged, indicating they had never been trapped by the agency before.
“You look in the trap and see all these bears in there and wonder how it can happen,” White said. “But they were all calm.”
White tranquilized the bears, tagged them and released them in another area in an effort to remediate the complaints generated by bruins in Pittston Township.
Still, Kapral doesn’t expect the number of bear complaints overall to subside.
“It’s been non-stop since the bears came out of hibernation,” he said. “I’ve been getting 5-10 bear complaints a week, and they’re coming from places like Trucksville, Shavertown, Dallas and Kingston Township.”
Even with a 2012 bear harvest of 3,632, which followed 2011’s record take of 4,350, complaints haven’t subsided, Kapral said. And the fact that more are being generated from suburban areas is a bit alarming.
“Complaints from residential areas aren’t a good thing,” Kapral said. “It’s mostly bears going after garbage and bird feeders, and a decent number of complaints are generated simply by people who see a bear in the neighborhood.”
White said the bear population in his district is growing rapidly. As an example, he referred to a den not far from where he trapped the bears in Pittston Township. Over the winter, PGC biologists inspected the den and found a sow and three cubs inside. All four bears were tagged, evidence that the four White trapped in July were a different group.
“That’s at least eight bears right in this area. It surprises me and we have our hands full,” he said. “I had traps set throughout my district all summer long and I’m still getting complaints.”
“The social carrying capacity for this area is exceeded. How much can you expect people to tolerate?”
Bill Williams, the PGC’s Northeast Region information and education supervisor, said bear complaints are up slightly over last year and the peak time of year for problems hasn’t yet occurred.
“We’re close, but we usually don’t hit that peak until we get into the fall,” Williams said. “The complaints are primarily food-driven, although some people just call whenever they see a bear.”
This year in the Northeast Region, WCOs have trapped 155 bears as of Sept. 10. Some of those captures include bears caught for data collection purposes (age and weight), but many are the result of complaints. Most of those bears are relocated to remote areas, where the PGC hopes they won’t return and become a problem again in residential areas.
But if they do, another trap will be set.
While trapping and relocating is somewhat successful, Kapral believes more needs to be done as the number of bear complaints from residential areas rises.
“I think we need to expand the early archery season especially when they get into these residential areas that are hard to hunt,” Kapral said. “We have to do something because the complaints aren’t going away.”
Currently, the archery bear season runs from Nov. 18-22 statewide, but in parts of the southeast, the season runs from Sept. 21 to Nov. 16.
White agrees that an expanded archery season may be a solution to the rising number of bears — and complaints — in suburban areas.
“The only way to control the numbers is management through hunting,” he said. “The biggest benefit of archery is the reduced safety zone, so that would be a good start.”
While it’s illegal to intentionally feed bears or put food out that causes them to habituate to people, Williams said a few of those instances occur each year as well.
One occurrence that is fairly common when it comes to generating calls is a bear in a tree. Williams said when a bear wanders into a populated area and attracts attention, it will likely climb up a tree as crowds gather to catch a glimpse.
The course of action for these instances, he said, is to disperse the crowd and wait the bear out.
“Typically it will come down and move on when it feels comfortable,” he said.