If you’re visiting the Pine Mountain area in southeastern Kentucky this month—especially Kingdom Come State Park or driving the nearby Little Shepherd Trail—you just might be lucky enough to spot a mother black bear with her cubs.
You might be tempted to toss out some cookies or picnic food to draw them closer for a longer look or to snap a few photos. Don’t do it. Not only is feeding bears illegal in Kentucky, but teaching the cubs to rely on humans for food could lead to their deaths as adults.
“Feeding bears is a recipe for disaster,” says Steven Dobey, Kentucky Fish and Wildlife’s bear expert. “Whatever those cubs learn in their first year can set the tone for the rest of their lives.”
Once bears learn to look to humans for food, they can grow into problem adults that raid garbage cans and destroy property in their quest for an easy meal. “Our research shows that feeding bears usually turns them into nuisance animals,” Dobey says. “Later in life, we may have to capture them and move them elsewhere. If they become a threat to people, we may have to euthanize them.”
Kentuckians haven’t had to deal with bears since the days of the state’s settlement. However, in the past decade, Kentucky has been experiencing a bear resurgence as the animals are expanding in both numbers and range.
Bears are repopulating the state with gusto. Mother bears in Kentucky average two to three cubs a litter—and cub survival has been great. In several cases, wildlife biologists have documented mother bears with four or even five cubs.
There’s a lot going on with bears this month. Mothers are out of their dens with the cubs born in the winter. Mothers with year-old cubs from the previous season are driving their offspring away to begin living on their own. And soon, adult male bears will be roaming 100 miles or more in search of mates for the upcoming breeding season. It’s the best time of year to see bears in Kentucky.
While nature hasn’t yet loaded its buffet with the berries and nuts that bears love to eat, there’s still plenty of natural food in the woods for bears. For people living in bear country, it’s important not to teach them bad habits.
Residents should feed pets inside or keep only enough food outside for one meal. This will also reduce problems with other nuisance animals, such as raccoons and opossums. Keep garbage inside a sturdy building, and only put it out on the morning of garbage collection.
Above all, avoid the temptation to feed a bear or its cubs. Bears are wild animals. Only you can help keep them that way.
Learn more about black bears at www.fw.ky.gov, the Web site of the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources. Search under the keyword “bears.”