Somerset saw its own fair share of out-of-towners last week, thanks to the Memorial Day holiday. But there’s at least one reported visitor — of the shaggy, large, sharp-toothed variety — that’s making waves in town.
The Somerset Police Department and others are working to track down what may be one or two black bears that reportedly made their way into the city limits over the last week.
“Obviously, the bears and other wildlife were here long before man came around,” said Lt. Shannon Smith, with SPD. “It’s inevitable they would come in contact at some point or another.”
And that is especially true after black bear populations have surged back again from the brink over the last two decades.
14 female black bears were released back into the Daniel Boone National Forest — specifically the Big South Fork area of Tennessee — in 1996 and 1997. That has led to a significant increase in black bears south of Pulaski, in McCreary County.
According to the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife, the resurgence of the black bear population in Kentucky has also been helped along by a maturation of forests that had been logged significantly in the early 1900s. In the past 20 years, black bears have also made their way to Kentucky from West Virginia, Virginia and Tennessee.
Black bear sightings have increased in Pulaski County, notably in the eastern part of the county in areas off of Ky. 192 and Ky. 1003, and in the Buck Creek Boat Dock area. It’s common knowledge that Pulaski County has seen its fair share of bear sightings over the past century — although the black bear population here has been called “scattered,” at best.
Now, if the four phone calls SPD received last week are any indication, at least one bear has made its way into the Somerset city limits.
“We received two calls on the east side of town, and two calls on the south side of town,” said Smith. Smith said bear sightings came in on Wednesday evening, Thursday evening, and Friday morning.
“We don’t know if it’s the same bear moving over a wide area, or more than one,” said Smith.
A black bear was reportedly spotted in the Chaudoin Street area, located off East Mt. Vernon Street in downtown, and another was spotted at the Don Marshall dealership, which is located near the intersection of South U.S. 27 and Oak Hill Road.
The apparent bear sighting at Don Marshall was captured via cell phone by at least two people, one of them Kentucky State Police Trooper William Cowan, according to Smith. The other image was captured from the same area by a private citizen.
Smith said the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife has been notified about the reported sightings. He noted that he took to the sky on Monday in the SPD’s gyro-plane in an attempt to spot any sign of the bear (or bears), and found nothing.
“We were not able to see them,” said Smith.
Of course, bears often move overnight and rummage for sustenance in the cover of darkness. Smith asked that people keep on the lookout, and that they report any possible bear sightings to 911 “while staying at a safe distance.”
Smith said if a bear is spotted again, officials are hoping they can work to locate and then move the animal to a located away from Somerset.
Black bears, considered a less aggressive bear as compared to the polar bear or grizzly, can weigh in at anywhere between 120 and 350 lbs., depending on the gender of the bear and the season (whether there is an abundance of food or not). Black bears can grow to between 4 and 6 feet in length, and they can run at speeds up to 35 mph in short bursts.
According to Fish and Wildlife, black bears are generally shy and avoid contact with humans. Unfortunately, the hunt for food can lead them to areas populated by humans, such as campsites and towns.
Residents of the small town of Middlesboro, located in Bell County in far southeastern Kentucky, are even reporting bear sightings. National park officials in eastern Kentucky report that bears have
returned to Middlesboro and along the periphery of the city, according to an Associated Press article.
Rangers had some cautionary words for Middlesboro residents that could apply to Somerset residents as well: Make sure notorious bear lures, such as garbage, is kept inside and placed outside on the day of pick-up, or stored in a bear-proof container.
The Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife also has a few guidelines that can help if you do encounter a black bear in town:
• Do not approach the bear;
• If you see a black bear from a distance, alter your route of travel;
• Know that a black bear will almost always find an escape route if left alone;
• If approached by a black bear, stand your ground, raise your arms to appear larger, and yell until it leaves the area;
• Shout and throw sticks or rocks in the vicinity of bear to encourage flight once an escape route has been established;
• If a black bear attacks, fight back aggressively and do not play dead;
• If cornered or threatened, bears may slap the ground, “pop” their jaws, or “huff” as a warning. If you see those behaviors you are too close. Slowly back away while facing the bear at all times.
• Females with cubs will often climb a tree to for escape cover, so you must never surround a tree holding any bear, especially a female with cubs;
• And locate and remove the lure that caused the bear to come into town.