HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) – Emelia Bittenbinder frequently hikes with her dog at Boyd Big Tree Preserve Conservation Area.
“We like to exercise, go hiking in the mountains, and enjoy being out in nature and just getting away from everything,” Bittenbinder said.
For the past month, she’s seen the sign warning hikers of increased bear sightings in the area.
“Luckily, we haven’t come across anything, but it is something that you kind of have to keep an eye out for when you’re walking around up there,” Bittenbinder said.
There hasn’t been an increase in the statewide bear population, but that doesn’t mean there hasn’t been increases in specific areas.
“If the increase in sightings has been in the past couple of weeks as, say, opposed to the past couple of months, it could well be food-driven,” said Travis Lau, a spokesman for the Pennsylvania Game Commission.
It could be caused by acorns falling or possibly new crops nearby. Lau says another possibility is a new development.
“That might cause bears to move into a new core area because their own core area is no longer there,” Lau said. “It could have to do with more people out and seeing the bears.”
If you do encounter a bear, Lau says it’s important to stay calm.
“Running, climbing trees can all be perceived as threats by bears,” Lau said.
Lau says bears will sometimes pop their jaws or take several aggressive steps toward you then stop. Those are both signs to slowly back away without turning your back.
“Bear attacks in Pennsylvania are extremely rare,” Lau said. “The black bears here, while they’re always to be respected, they’re strong animals. They’re wild animals.”
If you’re walking your dog, like Bittenbinder, make sure to keep a watchful eye.
“It makes you a little bit leary, but honestly, we make enough noise. I think we’ll scare off anything before we come across it,” Bittenbinder said.
Lau says you don’t want to startle a bear, but quietly talking or whistling is a smart move if you see it before it sees you.
“Just to let that animal know that you’re there will go a long way to avoiding any escalated encounter,” Lau said.