Bear rambling zone closer than imagined

Expansion of black bear home ranges raises the possibility of future bruin visits elsewhere, even western Kentucky someday.

It doesn’t sound pertinent to folks in our region that these are wandering times for young male black bears, but don’t be too complacent.

Here in far western Kentucky, don’t be so sure that our time is not coming to at least experience a stray bruin now and then.

Last week, a wild and roaming black bear appeared in Lexington on the University of Kentucky campus, and he wasn’t there on scholarship, either.

Kentucky is known to now have a well-established population of black bears, centered mostly in the mountainous southeastern region. Bears are resident and routine over the better part of almost three dozen counties.

It is the bears’ own initiative to be Kentucky residents, too. They were never stocked to reclaim native habitats from which they were eliminated many years earlier. Bears wandered in from existing populations in West Virginia, Virginia and Tennessee better than 20 years ago to start what is now the renewed Kentucky bruin bunch.

A summer phenomenon among black bears is that young males, often catching flak from older, dominant males, may set off on meandering journeys well beyond the neighborhoods in which they were raised as cubs. The teen-ager equivalent bears often roam many miles in search of potential new territories, even keeping an eye out for potential future mates, before they commonly ease back closer to their initial home areas.

That is likely the case in the bear that showed up in Lexington.

But while that is unusual, it’s not unimaginable. This season, Kentucky Department of Fish & Wildlife Resources officers have been tracing the travels of black bears in central Kentucky. One or more bears have produced repeat sightings in both Jessamine and Fayette counties.

A few years ago, Kentucky’s resident bear population was guesstimated at less than 500 animals. Yet, that number is difficult to gauge, and admittedly the population, whatever it was then, was growing annually with natural reproduction as well as probable continued influx from bordering bear states.

For people who are in the possible wandering bear visitation zone (and who knows what that might include?), they should be prepared for a drop-in bruin. A black bear is typically shy and afraid of people, but they get less so if there is free food present.

Bears are attracted by garbage, pet and livestock food and birdfeeders that present easy dining opportunities. When one or more bears are present, these potential attractors are especially in need of control or elimination.

A black bear usually is not an imminent source of danger, but people should not approach one. Feeding them either accidentally or on purpose causes them to lose their fear of people and raises the possibility of bad things happening to either humans or the bear itself.

“A fed bear is a dead bear,” is the rhyme used to described what often happens when black bears discover food associated to human residents. Bears often become regular diners, until they progressively grow bolder, present more danger and have to be trapped and removed by wildlife control agents.

And bears that link people with food often prove impossible to relocate without having the same dangers arise elsewhere, so they must be destroyed.

We should not forget that, because of their far more common status, black bears inflict more trauma on humans than do grizzly bears. Black bears are omnivores, but a part of that is predation. It is rare, but they have preyed on people.

Here in far western Kentucky, it is unlikely that we will see a black bear sashay through on an exploratory jaunt from Black Mountain in the southeast corner. If the Kentucky resident population expands its home territory, however, who’s to say in the long term?

Presently, the chances of visiting black bears in western Kentucky are far more likely from another direction.

Missouri has had an expanding population of bears for several years. Initially clumped in the Ozarks, the population is now firmly entrenched over much of the southern one-third of the state.

A solid hotbed of bear activity is centered around the Ozark National Scenic Riverways, the timbered habitats around the Current and Jacks Fork rivers where many Kentuckians take their own trips for canoeing, tubing and such.

That cluster of bear business is more or less just down the road. There is some major river water between here and there, but black bears are adept swimmers, folks.

An established black bear population of our own in western Kentucky is not a probability because much of our territory is short on the timberlands that make the best bear habitat. That is not to say it is impossible, just unlikely.

What is becoming less unlikely is an occasional bear sighting in the West as populations expand in different directions. If nothing else, maybe they will want to vacation here.

•••

The Illinois Department of Natural Resources has announced the state’s next five-year waterfowl hunting plan, which includes the selected duck and goose hunting dates for the hunting years of 2021 through 2025.

As required by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife, the IDNR has hammered out a five-year plan based on review of scientific information and input — preferences — from waterfowl hunters. The regulations in the plan are intended to provide maximum opportunities for hunters while still protecting waterfowl resources.

No changes in waterfowl hunting zone lines were made, but in general there are later starting times for seasons for duck and goose hunting 2021-2025. Hunter preferences leaned to later dates, and those wants were balanced with biological data on seasons, the timing of peak migrating waterfowl abundance, average “freeze-up” dates and conflicts with other hunting seasons, particularly deer hunting seasons.

The duck season dates in Illinois’ nearest South Zone 2021-2025 will be Nov. 27-Jan. 25, Dec. 3-Jan. 31, Dec. 2-Jan. 30, Nov. 30-Jan. 28 and Nov. 29-Jan. 27. South Zone Canada goose dates over that period each will start on the same date as the duck season but continue through Jan. 31.

This year’s Illinois waterfowl hunting dates are the last of a plan approved back in 2015. These include South Zone duck hunting Nov. 26-Jan. 24 and Canada goose hunting Nov. 26-Jan. 31.

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