Black bears are a common sight in parts of Oklahoma, and in Sequoyah County in recent years, which is a good indication that the species is expanding its habitat westward, the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation reported Wednesday.
The black bears' range has primarily been in Sequoyah, Adair, and Cherokee Counties in east-central Oklahoma, and in Latimer, LeFlore, Pushmataha and McCurtain counties in southeastern Oklahoma. But the range has slowly been expanding west in the past several years.
Landowners and sportsmen most anywhere in the eastern half of the state shouldn't be surprised if a black bear turns up on their game camera this summer. Sightings have also been reported in the Blackgum and Marble City area as well as north of the Long community and near Broken Arrow, Tahlequah, Muskogee, Wewoka and Ada.
And since the female bears, or sows, will likely have cubs in tow during the summer as they forage for food, it is increasingly likely that hikers and recreationalists could have a bear encounter. Most encounters with black bears in Oklahoma result from the animal's search for food. The black bear's natural diet includes nuts, berries grasses, insects, eggs, honey, small mammals and carrion. But bears are opportunists and can be attracted by easy food sources such as unsecured garbage or outside pet food. To minimize the chances of attracting bears always make sure that garbage is contained and pet food is not left outside.
Black bears in Oklahoma are generally two to three feet tall at the shoulder and weigh between 150 and 400 pounds. Their color can vary from black to chocolate brown to pale cinnamon. Bears began spreading into Oklahoma from Arkansas in the 1970s and 80s, several decades after Arkansas conducted a bear relocation program.
In 2009 Oklahoma established bear hunting seasons in the four southeastern counties after studies indicated the bear population in that part of the state was healthy enough to allow hunting. The black bear is a regulated big-game animal in Oklahoma. It is illegal to kill a bear outside of the established bear hunting seasons.
To report a nuisance bear in areas north of Interstate 40, call senior biologist Mike Plunkett at (918)625-3910 or senior biologist J.D. Ridge at (918)617-1113. To report a nuisance bear south of I-40 call wildlife biologist Jeff Ford at (918)527-9918 or technician Matt Hensley at (918)260-3920. Nuisance bears may also be reported to any local game warden. In Sequoyah County they are Jeremy Bersche at (918)431-2550 and Jerry Henry at (918)431-2544. A game warden directory is available at wildlifedepartment.com.
Sally Maxwell, Senior News Director
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