Black bears are located primarily in Garrett, Allegany, Washington, and Fredrick counties. Populations are highest in Garrett and Allegany counties, with bear numbers rising in the remaining areas.
The bear population size was last estimated in 2011. At that time, an extensive study using DNA technology was completed in Garrett and Allegany counties. Based on research and other population monitoring surveys, the department currently estimates that Maryland is home to more than 2,000 adult and subadult black bears.
No. Maryland has never transplanted bears to establish a bear population. Maryland’s bear population is a ‘recolonizing’ population, meaning that it is expanding and increasing as part of a natural process. The increase in the bear population is primarily due to improved habitat conditions in Maryland and throughout the Mid-Appalachian region over the last several decades.
Bears are the largest mammal in Maryland. Adult bears usually weigh between 125 and 400 pounds, although bears weighing 600 pounds or more are not uncommon. Adult female bears achieve a maximum weight of 150 to 300 pounds while adult male bears achieve a maximum weight of 300 to 600 pounds or more.
Bears are wide-ranging animals. Adult females have an average home range of about 10 square miles, while adult males can cover 25 square miles or more. Young bears striking out on their own can travel 150-200 miles as they search for a territory of their own. This movement by young bears is called dispersing. Each year, a handful of dispersing bears seem to travel through Maryland’s more suburban areas in Baltimore, Carroll, Harford, Howard, and Montgomery counties in search of new territory. These bears don’t stay in Maryland’s suburban areas long, choosing instead to move on to more suitable habitats in western Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and West Virginia where there is already an established bear population.
Bears are opportunistic feeders, which mean they will eat whatever is accessible. Largely vegetarian, common foods include berries, cherries, other fruits, acorns, beechnuts, hickory nuts, insects, roots, grasses, reptiles, amphibians, and carrion. Acorns remain the single most important natural food for bears in Maryland. As the opportunity arises, bears will also eat garbage, agricultural crops, and bird food. Bears feed heavily during the fall months in order to increase fat reserves for the upcoming winter.
No! It is illegal to put out food or bait to attract bears. Attracting bears to areas near people can cause future problems. Feeding bears can create a situation that is unsafe for people and the bear.
Bears are usually solitary animals with large home ranges. They can be found in most habitats throughout their range in western Maryland but prefer forested areas with suitable food resources and thick cover where they generally avoid people.
Black bears are part of Maryland’s natural ecosystem. Most nuisance bear situations can be handled through education. The Wildlife and Heritage Service does not routinely trap nuisance bears. The first step in handling a nuisance bear situation is to help the landowner take appropriate measures (such as securing trash and bird feeders) to discourage bears from becoming a nuisance. While preventive measures usually provide the desired outcome, persistent bears may require additional action.
At this point, the Wildlife and Heritage Service may choose other options for dealing with nuisance bears. These options may include the use of dogs to chase the bear from the affected property or trapping and aversively conditioning the nuisance bear on site. Aversive conditioning is a behavior modification tool that uses negative feedback to discourage bears from repeating their nuisance behavior. Negative feedback is given through a combination of pepper spray, nonlethal rubber projectiles fired from a shotgun by trained staff, and pyrotechnic noisemakers. Trapping and relocating a bear rarely resolves a nuisance situation. Black bears have amazing homing abilities. Research has shown that relocated bears usually return to their original territories.
If you encounter a bear that is not aware of your presence, back away and leave the area. Give the bear plenty of room. If you spot a bear cub, remain alert. The cub’s mother is sure to be near. Again, back away and leave the area.
Should you encounter a bear at close range, speak to the bear in a calm, assertive voice. STAY CALM and do not run. Remain upright and back away from the bear. Avoid direct eye contact, as the bear may perceive this as a threat. Again, give the bear plenty of room. Do not crowd the bear’s personal space.
Black bears may exhibit some unique behaviors when they feel their personal space is being threatened. A crowded bear may huff or make a woofing noise at the threat. They may also swat the ground, pop their jaws, or even bluff charge the perceived threat. When a bear bluff charges, it may stop several yards or just a few feet short of the threat. Remember not to run, as running may incite a bear’s natural ‘chase reflex’. Stay calm. Remain upright and back away from the bear.
Bears may also stand upright on their hind legs. This is not a sign of aggression. Bears usually stand upright when they are trying to get a better view of something. Bears rely heavily on their sense of smell, and may stand upright to better determine the source of the new scent.
It is important to remember that black bear attacks are extremely rare. By using common sense and good judgment, we can continue to appreciate the natural beauty of these forest animals at a safe distance.
Bears will not normally come near homes unless there is something that attracts them to the area. You should make loud noises, such as yelling at the bear or banging pots and pans together, in an effort to scare the bear away. After the bear has left, check around the house and remove anything that could be acting as an attractant. This could be bird food, humming bird feeders, pet food, garbage, etc.
Do not leave pet food unattended. Take your trash out the morning of pick-up or use a bear proof trash container.
Cleaning trash cans with ammonia can also help eliminate attraction.
Please contact your local Wildlife and Heritage Service office. You may be eligible for compensation for this damage. It is also possible that you could employ certain techniques to deter bear damage. Your local wildlife representative will be able to provide you with that information. In Garrett County call 301-334-4255, Allegany County call 301-777-2136, Washington and Frederick Counties call 301-842-2702.
It is illegal for an individual to kill a bear unless it is attacking livestock or it threatens your life. Under no circumstances should you kill a bear just because it is near your house.
Maryland Wildlife and Heritage Service
1728 Kings Run Road
Oakland, MD 21550
Illustration by Wade Henry
580 Taylor Ave, Annapolis MD 21401