Black bears inhabited Ohio prior to settlement of the region, but by the 1850's black bears were considered extirpated (removed completely) from Ohio. Unregulated hunting and deforestation as farms, towns, and industry were established in Ohio in the 1800's contributed to the reduction in black bear numbers. Remaining bears were either shot or trapped to protect livestock and crops. Occasional black bear sightings prompted the development of a formal black bear reporting procedure in 1993 (1-800-WILDLIFE). Reports suggest that Ohio supports a small breeding population of black bears. (Ohio DNR black bear web page).
Since 1995 there have been 15 black bear sightings in Cuyahoga County. It is important to remember that each sighting does not indicate a different bear. For example, there have been 5 reported sightings in 2005, all reports of the same bear by different people.
Most of the sightings reported since 1995 have come from the Chagrin River Valley. Most of these bears are probably young males (18 months to 3 years). Young male bears move to areas with lower bear populations (such as Ohio) to avoid confrontation with older males that are very territorial during the summer months when mating occurs. Adult male bears will kill young male bears within their territory. Non-breeding males often do not have their own territory so they wander, sometimes covering a hundred miles or more. Once young black bears arrive in highly developed areas such as northeastern Ohio, they become uncomfortable among the large human population and return eastward from where they came. Black bears that have been spotted in Cuyahoga County probably return to over winter in the dense forests of western Pennsylvania.
The black bear, Ursus americanus, is the most common species of bear in North America. Bears are crepuscular animals. This means they are most active early in the morning and late in the evening. Bears in areas of high human population will often adjust their schedule and become active at night when few people are around. They are omnivores; they eat a variety of foods from fruits and grasses to meat.
Black bears have a range of color phases that include black, chocolate brown, cinnamon brown and blue-black. Adult black bears can weigh between 150 and 700 pounds, but the average weight for a male is 300 pounds and 175 pounds for a female. Males measure between five and six feet tall when standing upright, while females are smaller at four to five feet tall standing upright. Most adult black bears are between two and a half and three feet tall at the shoulders when on all fours. Although black bears grow to be quite large, they weigh only 8 ounces at birth!
Black bears have a large home range and travel often. Studies indicate the home ranges of males to be 100 to 120 square miles. Females have smaller home ranges at 20 to 50 square miles. Black bears can be found from coast to coast throughout North America in a wide variety of more heavily wooded habitats from swamps and wetlands to dry hardwood and coniferous forests. Black bears hibernate in their over-wintering dens between November and March.
Black bears breed mid-June to mid-July and sows give birth sometime during January or February. First litters usually have only one cub while later litters produce two or three cubs. Black bears generally produce one litter every other year. Care is provided entirely by the mother. Cubs stay with their mother until they are about 1.5 to 2 years old. Black bears can live to 25 years or more in the wild.
An estimated 55 black bears inhabited Ohio in 2001, making the chances of seeing one extremely slim. If you do encounter a bear, slowly back away and allow it to continue on its way. Bears try to avoid interaction with people. However, bears will take advantage of easy food sources. Remember, a fed bear is a dead bear. Bears that associate food with people become troublesome, and it often costs the bear its life.
Although black bears try to avoid human interaction they occasionally become a nuisance around human populated areas. Try to manage your household waste in a place where bears cannot get to it and look for food. You should never feed a bear. Bears may lose their fear of humans and become a nuisance or even aggressive towards people in situations where people are feeding them. When this happens the bear may have to be relocated or even destroyed.