By Josh Dooley of The Baxter Bulletin

MOUNTAIN HOME — Black Bear sightings in the Twin Lakes Area in northern Arkansas are increasing due to a lack of food, according to biologist Allen Cathey with the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission.

Normally, sightings of the bears increase during the spring. However, recent dry weather has caused a shortage of their primary food source during the summer.

“It’s so dry, a lot of the berries that were just getting ripe have dwindled up and gone away,” said Cathey. “There’s just not that much food right now.”

Bears, like people, look forward to summertime berry crops. For them, it’s a primary food source.

“During this time of the year, bears typically eat soft mast,” said Cathey. “That means berries, blackberries, polk berries, blueberries, cherries.”

Bears have territories and generally range within those areas. But, with the dwindling food supply, the bears are moving outside those areas in search of new food supplies, the Baxter Bulletin reported. Female black bears can range up to 30 miles, while their male counterparts can range up to 50 miles, according to the biologist.

“What we’re seeing now is the bears are moving into those rural areas where people live,” Cathey said. “They’re finding food in deer feeders, bird feeders, pet food, chicken feed and garbage.”

Once a bear finds that food supply, they’ll keep coming back for more.

Cathey said the bears aren’t typically a threat to people, including the elderly and children. However, pets that approach bears eating from the pet’s dish might receive a warning swat from a feeding bear.  Most everyone enjoys watching bears.

It might be tempting to leave the food source (deer feeder, pet food, etc.) in place hoping for future visits from the animals.  However, that might create problems.

“On your property, the bear may only take food from a deer feeder,” said Cathey. “But, at your neighbor’s place, the same bear might be ripping up trees and going through the garbage cans.”

Additionally, bears that become unafraid of people pose a significant problem.

“If a bear becomes what we call ‘habituated’ to people, where the bear no longer fears people and becomes accustomed to us as a food source, that’s serious problem,” Cathey said. “In the most severe cases, the bear may have to be put down.”

For those who see a bear feeding on their property, Cathey recommends a simple solution to the problem.

“If a bear is getting a food supply from your property, you need to remove that food supply,” the biologist said. “Take down your bird feeders, put away your deer feeder. Put your trash cans inside a building and move your pet food indoors.”

The bear may still come back looking for food because it will remember where it got food from in the past. Additionally, if your neighbor’s property also is a food source for the bear, the bear may travel through your property on its way to a meal.

Once you remove the food source from your property, Cathey recommends waiting at least 10 days before putting things back the way they were.

“If a bear comes back say twice and doesn’t find food, he’s probably not going to come back,” said Cathey.  “Why would you go to a place that has no food.”

If, however, you wait 10 days, put things back where they were and the bear returns, Cathey suggests removing everything again and waiting three weeks before putting items back in place.

If those measures should fail, Cathey suggests calling the AGFC at (800) 482-9262 to report the problem bear to receive help from the agency.