July 15, 2002 at 4:59 PM EST - Updated July 1 at 8:55 AM
AKRON, Ohio (AP) - Wildlife officials say there's a reason why they are getting more black bear sightings this year -- more black bears.
Last year, there were 128 sightings involving 55 bears in 29 counties in eastern and southeastern Ohio, according to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources.
Already this year, the Ohio Division of Wildlife has received 70 reports of bear sightings in northeast Ohio's 19 counties.
"It's a continuing trend ... and we may have to adjust to the idea of living with black bears," said Dan Kramer, a biologist for the Ohio Division of Wildlife. "We may have to deal with bears being our neighbors."
Already that's the case in cities such as Pittsburgh and Charleston, W.Va., which have healthy black bear populations living at the edge of suburbia, he said.
Dave Swanson, a wildlife division biologist and Ohio's black bear expert, said people and bears can peacefully co-exist.
The animals generally are shy, reclusive and not aggressive, said Swanson, who advises slowly backing away in an encounter and never feeding a bear.
Ohio monitors bear reports and will live-trap or immobilize troublesome bears with sedatives and move them if necessary, Kramer said. But the state is not going to remove black bears that aren't causing problems, he said.
Black bears are protected in Ohio, and hunting them is illegal.
Ohio had black bears in pioneer days, but the bears were shot or trapped to protect livestock and crops. The last bear in Ohio was killed by 1850.
In recent years, bears have been migrating back into the state -- generally from Pennsylvania and West Virginia, Kramer said.
Pennsylvania has more than 10,000 bears, and West Virginia has more than 8,000.
Nationwide, the United States has an estimated 400,000 black bears.
(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)