Black bear spotted inside the Beltway

At least two sightings of a black bear in Montgomery County, Maryland, have neighbors on alert.

The two sightings in Kensington and Chevy Chase are likely the same black bear according to Jim Bennett, with the Wildlife & Heritage Service of Maryland’s Department of Natural Resources.

In an interview with WTOP, Bennett explained that at this time of year, young male black bears are on the move for a new home range. “Twenty years ago, bears were very uncommon in this area,” but he said sightings in even heavily developed Montgomery County are no longer rare, “this is occurring yearly now.”

Over the past decade, black bears have been spotted in Gaithersburg.

Bears can cover a great deal of territory, and Bennett said it’s not uncommon for them to travel up to 10 miles a day. That can lead a hungry bear to investigate suburban homes where trash cans and birdfeeders can provide easy and filling meals.

Bennett said the first thing homeowners should do is take down their birdfeeders for at least a few weeks until the bear is out of the area. “Birdseed, especially the black-oil sunflower seed is extremely high in protein and fats, and it’s very attractive to bears,” Bennett said.

Be sure to avoid leaving food scraps in your trash, and periodically clean out the trash cans, Bennett said. Bennett suggests an ammonia-based solution; bears have sensitive noses that draw them to your trash cans, and that same sensitivity can repel them when the trash containers are cleaned.

Pets should be kept indoors, and if you’re in the habit of feeding yours outside — on a back deck, for example — Bennett said to be sure to bring bowls inside. And he also recommended locking the doors to your home and your car.

“Bears have been known to get into unlocked cars, especially with most new vehicles where all you have to do is pull on the door handle,” Bennett said. And exterior doors with levers — like those on some sliding glass doors — can also be manipulated by bears.

An organization founded by state agency biologists called notes that over half of incidents between black bears and humans involved dogs, whose barking and chasing can trigger defensive behaviors in bears. Bennett said attacks by black bears are extremely rare but that two incidents in Frederick County, one in 2016 and one in 2020, involved dogs. The people attacked survived in both those cases.

Bennett said Maryland’s Allegany and Garrett counties have the highest number of black bears, but they’re also common in Washington and Frederick counties, with periodic sightings in Montgomery County.  Even with the increased sightings in developed areas, attacks remain rare.

“You can spend a lot of time out in Garrett County and Allegany County where our bear population is highest and never see a bear,” Bennett said.

If you do encounter a bear, it’s recommended that if you see it before it sees you, slowly move out of the area. Running can prompt a bear to chase. When a bear first notices humans, it’s not uncommon for it to stand on its hind legs. Bennett said that’s not a sign that the bear will attack.

“Standing up is a kind of inquisitive thing, it’s not an aggressive or defensive behavior at all,” he said. It’s the bear’s way of getting a better look and often catching a whiff of the humans it’s encountered.

If a black bear continues to approach you on a trail or in your yard, make noise, which tends to encourage bears to leave.

Bennett said if you are commonly hiking in areas where there are bears or you live in a county where bears are more common, having bear spray with you is advisable.

But he said it’s not a repellent. It should be used when the bear comes close and isn’t backing off.

“It is extremely effective, and bears do not like it. They will run away once they get sprayed with it,” he said.

Kate Ryan

As a member of the award-winning WTOP News, Kate is focused on state and local government. Her focus has always been on how decisions made in a council chamber or state house affect your house. She's also covered breaking news, education and more.

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