Oh my! No lions or tigers, but plenty of bears in DC-area suburbs

A screenshot from 7News livestream showing the black bear in the tree in Northeast D.C. June 9, 2023. (Courtesy 7News)
Bears seem to be invading the suburbs with two spotted within a week, one in Northeast D.C. and another in Rockville, Maryland. But a wildlife expert said this might actually be good news.

The bear running loose in D.C.’s Brookland and Brentwood neighborhoods and one spotted in Rockville were likely “sub-adult” males, according to University of Maryland wildlife ecology professor Jennifer Mullinax.

“Right now is the time of year when a lot of times these sub-adult males, typically these bears that we see that are moving into kind of the non-traditional or the very periphery of a traditional bear range,” Mullinax told WTOP. “They start wandering.”

Female bears keep their cubs for approximately two years and female cubs eventually live off on the periphery, slightly overlapping their mother’s home range, but males don’t work that way.

“They’re kind of kicked off on their own,” said Mullinax.

With an increasing bear population a lot of the traditional bear range is already occupied forcing these young and “dumb” bears out into the burbs.

“Otherwise, they’re going to face, you know, older, mature adult males who are going to run them off,” Mullinax said, adding that these sub-adult bears can take just one wrong turn and end up on city streets.

While seeing these predator/opportunistic feeders may be slightly jarring and scary, she said it’s also a good sign that the area has a health population after an almost decimation 70 years ago.

“Montgomery County and Baltimore County are having these sightings over the last five or 10 years, whereas before we were really only seeing them in like Garrett, Allegheny and the most western counties of Maryland,” said Mullinax. “So every indication points to we have a slowly growing and expanding black bear population.”

It also means our local ecosystem is likely thriving.

“Where you have bears, you usually have a pretty healthy ecosystem, they represent the needs of many other species that fall under them. So that’s kind of cool,” continued Mullinax.

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Luke Lukert

Since joining WTOP Luke Lukert has held just about every job in the newsroom from producer to web writer and now he works as a full-time reporter. He is an avid fan of UGA football. Go Dawgs!

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