The bears are awake, and they are hungry.
On Thursday, a family of bears, including a mother and three 1-year-old cubs, strolled into the backyard of an East Branch Road neighborhood.
Their mission: food.
“I don’t care where you live in State College, you live in bear country. It doesn’t matter if it’s Old Main or the outside of town, the possibility of a bear traveling into town is a possibility. They are simply trying to get from point A to point B,” said Dan Murray, a wildlife conservation officer in Centre County.
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According to Murray, there are human behaviors that contribute to the likelihood of a bear making its way into your backyard.
“As people living with wildlife around us, we have to be good stewards of the wildlife. We aren’t doing them any favors by leaving food outside. We don’t want to habituate the wildlife to living around us. We need to help ourselves here, if we stop our behavior when we know wildlife is around, we also help the wildlife,” Murray said.
I don’t care where you live in State College, you live in bear country.
Dan Murray, wildlife conservation officer
And for Murray and the Pennsylvania Game Commission that behavior begins with inadvertently feeding the bears.
“Bird feeders are bear feeders. You’re inviting them to come. Those bears (that get caught) found themselves into a place where they got themselves into trouble. Really, that’s the problem that we have,” Murray said.
Barbara Peters lives close to the street the bears were caught on and says after having the bears in her back yard for three days, she’s likely going to bring her bird feeder in.
“It was very disconcerting (having the bears in our backyard). Most of the times we had seen them were at night. My teenage son didn’t even want to take out the trash at night. We didn’t want to sit out in the backyard, it made the yard feel unsafe,” Peters said.
“The wildlife conservation officers were wonderful, they didn’t want anyone hurt, they were very kind and did a great job. They even explained that the tranquilizing guns don’t put them to sleep, it immobilizes them. They told us that when they wake up they’ll be just fine. They made sure they didn’t have injuries, and the bears looked fine,” Peters said.
But most importantly, Peters said the wildlife conservation officers “really stressed that bird feeders need to come in at night and to make sure trash is covered up.”
Murray said that he, Mike Steinbarger, a wildlife conservation officer, and two members of the State College Police Department were called at about 4 p.m. and were out for about two hours.
“Public safety is No. 1, and we try to get the bears concentrated. We don’t want to chase them around the neighborhood, folks are understandably interested in what’s going on, once we know the scene is safe we can get to work,” Murray said.
“It was a challenge (Thursday), due to the area it was at, off of East Branch Road, across from the golf course. It was in someone’s back yard. It is always a challenge in areas that are populated in terms managing both public safety and the welfare of the bears,” he said.
The darts used were filled with a combination of ketamine and xylazine, Murray said, adding the accuracy is important.
Murray said he used a pnuematic rifle, which uses a .22 blank. The gases from the blank propel the dart out of the rifle.
Soon the bears were on their way back to the woods.
But what happens if you encounter a bear and you’re alone in the woods?
Murray said “the worst thing you can do is to surprise a bear. Nine times out of 10 or even more than that, they are going to hear you or smell you or see you, because they really want nothing to do with you. If you do happen to come across one, you need to stop, stop what you are doing, make some noise, say hey bear, hey bear, clap your hands and most likely the bear is going to go off, because it really doesn’t want anything to do with people anyways. It usually runs away.”
And if you find one if your backyard, Murray said “the best thing to do is go inside and call the Game Commission. If you see a bear come in your yard, bring your pets inside, go inside, call us and we will deal with the situation. The main thing is get yourself somewhere safe.”
Especially if there are cubs around.
“If you get a bear that is standing its ground, and it is huffing or chomping their teeth, it probably has cubs around, you don’t want to get between a bear and its cubs, because it is going to protect its cubs,” he said.