July 26, 2006 | By: Terri McLean
LEXINGTON, KY.

As the number of black bears slowly increases in eastern Kentucky so, too, does the public’s curiosity about these large, charismatic creatures. A University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension program scheduled Aug. 3 in Letcher County is aimed at satisfying some of that curiosity. 

The program, which begins at 6:30 p.m. at the Letcher County Extension office in Whitesburg, will feature Dave Maehr, an associate professor who coordinates the UK College of Agriculture’s research of black bears in Kentucky. 

“I’ll be talking about how these things move around the landscape, how big their home ranges are, what they eat before they go into hibernation, how many cubs they have,” said Maehr, who has been studying black bears in Kentucky for three years. “It will be a natural history with a little bit of insight into how we do the work we do and where we’re going with it.”

It will also serve to clear up some of the misconceptions about the black bear, which nearly disappeared from the Kentucky landscape for 150 years before returning. One of those misconceptions is that great numbers of bears now roam eastern Kentucky’s forests.

“Thus far, we have been able to document fewer than 100 in the entire state,” said Maehr, whose research team captures black bears and fits them with radio collars to track their movements and habitat use. “Certain bears move around a lot, so 20 bear sightings in a small area over a short period of time is not going to mean there are 20 bears. It may be one bear.”

Bear sightings are more common in late July and early August because they are on the move in search of mates and food. Doug McLaren, Extension forestry specialist at UK, said one such sighting – at the Letcher County Extension office – was a factor in planning the upcoming bear program.

“The whole essence of our program on Aug. 3 is to educate people in that area of the state that bears are there, they’re going to be seen, and here’s what you need to know,” he said.

Shad Baker, Letcher County Extension agent for agriculture and natural resources, said he has been working with Extension agents in Harlan, Perry and Knott counties to educate the public about living with black bears and the benefits they can bring to the area.

“A lot of people right now have a positive image about bears and like having them around,” Baker said. “But that can quickly change if a bear starts getting into your garbage or your horse feed. We want them to know there are options for living with bears and that we can benefit from their presence in terms of tourism and image.”

The program is open to the public. In addition to Maehr’s presentation, representatives will be on hand from the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources and from a company that specializes in bear-proof containers. For directions to the Letcher County Extension office or for more information, contact 606-633-2362. 

“People should walk away thinking, well those are really interesting animals,” Maehr said.

Contact: 

Dave Maehr, 859-257-4807, Doug McLaren, 859-257-2703, Shad Baker, 606-633-2362