Having awakened from hibernation, black bears are on the move and may be seen wandering around the Four-State Area.
That includes Jasper and Newton counties, as well as parts of Southeast Kansas.
That's no cause for alarm, however, according to Frank Loncarich, wildlife management biologist for the Missouri Department of Conservation.
"They're not trying to cause trouble," Loncarich said. "They're just trying to find a place to settle down, and they're also looking for food."
The department's Neosho office receives reports of black bear sightings on and off beginning in May, Loncarich said. This year, one bear was seen south of Joplin, moved through the northwest end of Neosho, and was last seen leaving Neosho on the night of May 17, he said.
Bears may move through Southeast Kansas in the spring, and there have been sightings in Crawford County, Kansas, recently, according to the Crawford County Sheriff's Department. On Tuesday, the department notified residents "that there will be no action taken because of a sighting unless the bear poses a serious threat to public safety or property."
All Kansas sightings are reported to the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism.
"Bears move pretty good distances," added Laura Conlee, a Missouri Department of Conservation biologist.
These moving bears are primarily young males forced out of their territory by their mothers or other breeding males, according to Loncarich, who added: "The mother raises her cubs, and in their second year she will force the male cubs out of her territory."
"There's also very low food sources this time of year," he said, explaining that the bears typically feed on berries and insects.
"When they are roaming looking for food, they often end up in places where we don't expect them," Loncarich said.
Earlier this week, a bear was struck and killed by a vehicle while crossing Interstate 44 east of Springfield.
The bears are generally just passing through, but they can become a nuisance when they raid bird feeders, trash cans, chicken houses with unprotected chicken feed, and dog food, Loncarich said.
"This is when they start to cause trouble, when they get into peoples' property and tear it up."
The Missouri Department of Conservation has recommendations for property owners to reduce the risk of encounters:
• Do not leave pet food outside.
• Store garbage inside a secure spot.
• Keep grills clean and stored inside.
• Hang bird feeders at least 10 feet high and 4 feet away from structures.
For those who see a bear:
• Do not approach the animal.
• Clap, make noises and yell when encountering a black bear. Loncarich said, "Make yourself big, put your arms in the air, wave them around and yell, and most bears will take off."
• Slowly walk backward, but do not run to get away from a black bear. "Definitely if you see it, do not try to shoot it," Loncarich said. "They are not causing trouble, and it is illegal to shoot black bears, so you will get a heavy fine."
• When a bear is spotted in a residential or high-traffic area, the best thing to do is to contact the Missouri Department of Conservation, Loncarich said.
"We like to at least log the reports so we know a bear is around," he added.
In Newton and Jasper counties, the number of transient bears will most likely drop in July and August, Loncarich said. By that time, males have settled down into a territory and food sources are more abundant, so they no longer have to travel far in search of food.
"We may see continued movements of bears through here potentially through June," Loncarich said. "But once the blackberries really ripen up, they're going to settle down."
Loncarich said that the black bear population in Missouri is most likely going to increase and that bear sightings are going to continue.
"There are areas where there are established breeding bears that are filling up potential bear habitat," Loncarich said. "But there is also quite a bit of unoccupied bear habitat in the state."
Loncarich said that Jasper and Newton counties, with more open ground and prairie, are not areas where sows with cubs will settle down. McDonald County, however, has larger blocks of timber and could support a breeding population, he said.
Missouri is estimated to have 300 to 350 black bears, and the number is steadily increasing, according to the Missouri Department of Conservation. When the population exceeds 500 animals, the state may initiate a limited black bear hunting season. The Arkansas population is estimated to be around 3,000.