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Ohio Black Bears

There's Bears in Them Thar' Hills!

Black bears return to southeastern Ohio

Although black bears are native to Ohio, their numbers were all but depleted by hunting when settlers moved into the area in the 1800s. Now that the settlers are gone, and much of Ohio's woodlands have regrown, a few young bears are returning from neighboring states to take advantage of the favorable conditions and establish home ranges of their own.

If you see a bear. . .

You'll know it! Young males can weigh up to 200 pounds and an adult bear can weigh 300 pounds. Females are slightly smaller. Although the species is called a black bear, some are also blonde or reddish in color.  If you are fortunate enough to see one of these magnificent creatures in the wild, give it the respect it deserves. There is no reason to fear a black bear, as long as you leave the animal alone.


Bears are naturally shy creatures. They become aggressive only when they are confronted and cannot avoid an encounter. Ohio wildlife biologist Dave Swanson recommends that if a bear gets too close, you just back away slowly and give him plenty of room to escape. Do not frighten the animal. Even though you might be a little frightened yourself, remember that black bears are docile creatures who get along well with people. This is wonderful news for those of us who just want to observe them in the wild, but it can lead to their downfall if we take advantage of them.


Please--don't feed the bears!

Bears are happily content with their natural diet of grubs, nuts, berries, and other plants. Like most animals, however, a bear will eat "people" food if such food is offered to him or if he finds it. Since there are now more bears in southeastern Ohio, some occasionally make their way into populated areas. This situation is good for neither man nor beast, and you can do a lot to prevent its occurrence. For your own safety and that of the bear, do not offer food to a bear, and do not leave food or refuse in an area where a bear can find it. Once a bear associates humans with food, the bear can become a nuisance at best and aggressive at worst.

It's against the law to harm a bear

There is another very important reason not to attempt to feed or get close to a bear. The black bear is an endangered species in Ohio. Thus, it is illegal to hunt bear or otherwise hurt a bear. If you harm a bear in any way, you commit a first-degree misdemeanor, and are subject to a $1,000 fine and a jail sentence. 

Make your close encounter a safe encounter

If you are one of the few who has a close encounter with a black bear, make it a safe encounter. Remember, do not approach the bear and do not offer it food. Just enjoy a rare glimpse of a wonderful creature that was once almost extinct in our state. Lucky you! We are fortunate to have this awesome animal back in Ohio in greater numbers. And there's plenty of room for man and bear if both species observe a few common-sense precautions. The naturally shy bear will leave you alone if you do the same for him.


Report your sighting to the ONDR and to this Web site

To help wildlife experts monitor the return of the black bear to southeastern Ohio, please report your sighting to the county wildlife officer or wildlife specialist. You can also call 800-WILDLIFE to make your report directly to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR). And because the ODNR does not publish every instance of a bear sighting, we'd like to know about it, too.

Send e-mail to and describe your experience. We'll put it here for others to read and enjoy.

A black bear "sounding" near Big Cola

Although she didn't actually see a bear, Sheila, who owns Cola View Cabin in the Hocking Hills Region, heard one in her backyard. "I heard these incredibly loud grumbling and growling noises," she said.  "But that was just the first Saturday of turkey season," she recalls, "and the turkeys hadn't started gobbling yet, so I couldn't imagine what it was." As she opened the back door to investigate, her little dog darted out. The surprised bear took off, but left tracks for all to see. Bears range for hundreds of miles, and about a month later a large male was captured in Madison County and brought back home to southern Ohio. Sheila is certain that was "her" bear. She knows she will see him again, and is waiting--with a telephoto lens-- to take his picture.

 by Donna Fioto
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