DALLAS - Bill Williams wasn’t planning on doing two sessions of his bear program on Thursday night, but demand dictated it.
Williams, who is the information and education supervisor for the Pennsylvania Game Commission’s Northeast Region Office, scheduled the educational program on black bears a month ago and expected to fill about two-thirds of PGC’s conference room. Instead, turnout was so high for the 7 p.m. program that Williams had to turn people away and ask them to return for an impromptu second presentation an hour later.
While 80 people packed the conference room for the first program, another 60 returned for the second.
“I didn’t expect this amount of people,” Williams said. “But it is an interesting topic. People are seeing bears around their houses and hunters want to learn about their behavior, so this does engage a lot of people.”
Williams covered a wide range of bruin-related topics during the hour-long program, including behavior, ecology and management. He also used the opportunity to clear up a few myths about Pennsylvania’s bears.
Mainly, are bears dangerous?
Williams cited a study on black bear attacks in North America and said since 1900 63 people have been killed by the bruins. Forty-nine of those incidents were in Canada or Alaska, he said, and 92 percent of all the black bears that killed people were males.
That figure alone clears up one big misconception about bears, Williams said.
“It’s not sows protecting cubs. In not one case has a black bear been documented killing a person while protecting its cubs,” he said. “That’s not to say we shouldn’t respect bears and keep our space. But the sow and cub thing with black bears just doesn’t hold water.”
With many of Pennsylvania’s 16,000 bears becoming a common sight in urban and suburban areas, Williams stressed the importance of not feeding the bruins and taking steps to avoid attracting them, such as keeping garbage secured and removing bird feeders in the spring.
“We can’t send our officers out to remove a bear that’s eating out of birdfeeders,” he said.
Williams also spoke about a bear’s diet - right now they’re feasting on blueberries - and the fact that Pennsylvania’s bruins breed at an earlier age (3.2 years) and have larger average litters (three cubs, with a high of five) than any other state.
It all made for an interesting evening for those who attended, including the Boy Scouts with Troop 241 in Lehman.
Senior Patrol Leader Jacob Schall said the troop decided to come to the meeting in place of its regular meeting and he was glad they did.
“We had to wait for the second one, and it was worth it,” Schall said. “There was a lot of good information on bears that we weren’t aware of, especially with the cubs all being born in January. Just an awesome program.”
Wildlife Conservation Officer Gerald Kapral, who covers part of Luzerne County, wasn’t surprised by the high turnout because bears are a hot-button issue in the region. Kapral said bear complaints from residential areas remain high, and he hoped the program instilled some things that people can do to avoid attracting bears to their properties.
“Wildlife interactions with people are increasing every day,” Kapral said. “When a bear shows up in a backyard, people are afraid and it’s a big deal to them. If we can spend a couple of hours educating people on what they can do to keep bears out of their area, it makes our job a lot easier.”
Williams previously hosted a program on bald eagles and said more events focusing on other species are planned for this year.