By Alicia Dziak
Photo by Paul Crawford
Black bears are synonymous with Allegany State Park, and if you ask regular ASP visitors, many of them have their own tale of a bear sighting within the park. A friend of mine who visited the park in July marveled at the mother and cubs eating apples by the Red House campsite loops, and when I was there in early August, my family and I were thrilled to see a large bear walking near the Fancher Rec Area one night.
While seeing such wildlife is a unique and rewarding experience, people must also be aware and respectful of the park’s bear safety policies.
“The black bear is definitely one of the major attractions in the park, for both patrons and staff,” said ASP Forester Darrin Bierfeldt. “People should always remember that when viewing any wildlife to keep a safe distance from it. Although they may appear timid and domesticated, bears can prove to be very unpredictable or defensive, especially around their young. Never feed wildlife, especially a bear.”
Human food can cause wildlife to become sick or lead them to an early death, or lead an animal to a habituated state that could result in its loss of fear toward people and frequent and persistent nuisance behavior.
“A bear that causes property damage, is perceived as a threat to human health or safety, or is persistent and perceived as an annoyance is considered a nuisance,” explained Bierfeldt.
There are currently approximately 12 nuisance bears in the park. However, Bierfeldt is quick to point out that there are plenty of bears observed in the park that do not cause any harm and cause no reason for concern.
ASP is trying to protect its patrons and wildlife from harm, and has taken a zero tolerance approach for feeding.
“Due to the number of bears begging for food this summer, park staff are also warning campers upon checking in that failure to secure attractants (garbage, food, containers, etc.), when not in immediate use, could result in eviction,” continued Bierfeldt. “In most cases, a nuisance bear problem is initiated by a person’s neglect or carelessness.”
I recently learned from an ASP naturalist that bears will attempt to get anything that even looks like food. They recognize coolers and will try to get into them when left unattended. They also recognize food items inside vehicles, so it’s recommended that if anything that resembles food is left inside a vehicle, it should be covered with something like a blanket so bears cannot see it.
I had stopped at a drive-thru on my way to the park recently, and left the empty paper cup sitting in my car’s cup holder. The next morning, there was a muddy paw print streaking across the passenger window.
While keeping food secured and out of sight is the best precautionary measure visitors can take, it’s not uncommon to have habituated bears approach people.
What should you do if approached by a bear?
“It’s important to remain calm, make yourself look as big as possible (waving arms for example) and make noise,” Bierfeldt said. “Throwing rocks and sticks or other items is not recommended. Generally, this type of bear will believe it is being thrown food. If the bear continues to approach or is in close proximity, back away, slowly, to a safe location, such as a vehicle or cabin.”
Patrons are asked to report any such incident to the park police or any park staff as soon as possible.
“One of the most difficult tasks Allegany State Park has to contend with is finding a solution to the people problem, not the bear problem. We ask everyone to please assist us in keeping our patrons and wildlife safe by adhering to the park rules and regulations and reminding others to do the same,” Bierfeldt urged.
I’m happy finally to have my own ASP bear story to tell, and love that my favorite place to camp is also the place that so many black bears call home. Following the park’s simple bear safety rules will help ensure that people will have their own bear stories to tell for many generations to come.
More information can be found at ASP’s Red House and Quaker rental offices.
If you have a bear story you’d like to share, please email it to firstname.lastname@example.org and you just might see it on the ASP page in our paper.