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A black bear pays a visit to Oklahoma County

The black bear population in southeastern Oklahoma grows by about 5 to 6 percent each year, said Joe Hemphill, southeast region wildlife supervisor for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation. During the spring mating season, young male bears leave or are forced out of their home range and start roaming. [PHOTO BY COURTNEY CELLEY/USFWS]
The black bear population in southeastern Oklahoma grows by about 5 to 6 percent each year, said Joe Hemphill, southeast region wildlife supervisor for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation. During the spring mating season, young male bears leave or are forced out of their home range and start roaming. [PHOTO BY COURTNEY CELLEY/USFWS]

Seeing a black bear in Oklahoma County might be akin to seeing an alien from Mars, but Joe Hemphill is no longer surprised by bear sightings anymore from anywhere.

"We have been trying to put the word out for years that these aliens are coming," said Hemphill, who is the southeast region wildlife supervisor for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation.

A black bear eating at a corn feeder appeared on a trail camera near Luther recently, the first time there has been a confirmed sighting of a bear in Oklahoma County. But it is not the first time a black bear has traveled so far west from its home range in southeastern Oklahoma. A few years ago, a black bear was documented two miles west of I-35 near Wayne.

"We've got pictures of that one," Hemphill said.

However, Oklahoma County is not about to become bear country. This is the mating season for black bears. Young males are often run off or leave their home range during this time of year and go looking for a territory of their own, sometimes traveling as far west as I-35, Hemphill said.

"I think what happens is they go west so far, figure out they don't like people, they don't like traffic and all of these things they are seeing and they will turn around and come back," he said. "There is just not much west of I-35 for a bear to live off of."

State wildlife officials say the same bear that was spotted near Luther also was seen on trail cameras near Chandler and Depew.

"Anywhere that has a river bottom going through it, these bears may get in it and go looking around," Hemphill said.

Sightings of young bears, 1- and 2-year-olds, are becoming more frequent during the spring across Oklahoma because of increased usage of trail cameras, Hemphill said. Often, bears get caught in hog traps and state wildlife officials are called to release them, he said. One time, a bear was caught in a hog trap near Drumright, he said.

"We just open the trap and let them go," he said.

Over Memorial Day weekend, state wildlife officials were called to the scene of a small bear in a tree in Talihina, Hemphill said.

"He didn't realize what he got into when all those law enforcement lights hit him in the middle of the night," Hemphill said of the young bear.

The bear was too high in the tree to be reached with a bucket truck, so state wildlife officials just waited until the bear scurried down and left.

"We just finally got everybody away from him and he came down about 5:30 or 6 the next morning," Hemphill said.

Instances of bears roaming into Oklahoma towns was once newsworthy, but it has become commonplace in southeastern Oklahoma as the bear population continues to grow about 5 or 6 percent each year, he said.

Hemphill said there likely will be more sightings of young bears on the roam over the next several weeks in places they are not normally seen. They will stay on the move unless they find a place that serves regular meals, such as dog food left outside a home.

"Pretty much leave them alone and they are not going to hang around," he said. "Now if you start feeding them, giving them some high protein dog food or something like that, they like a free meal. You don't want to feed them because you might establish yourself a 200-pound pet."

Oklahoma State Parks now offers an app The Oklahoma State Parks app is now available for free in Apple’s App Store and in the Google Play Store.“The Oklahoma state parks are not a one-size-fits-all experience,” said Jerry Winchester, executive director of the Oklahoma Tourism & Recreation Department. “There is truly something for everyone at these parks, and we wanted an app that would allow travelers to easily see all the opportunities available to them. This app should make trip planning easier and provide a better user experience for visitors once they get to the parks.”The app features information on each park, and it provides links for users to book camping and lodging reservations and tee times for the state park golf courses. Each park also has a deals page that showcases available discounts.The app also provides extensive information for the many Oklahoma State Parks hiking trails, including maps, trail length and type.For more information on Oklahoma State Parks or to order a free Oklahoma State Parks & Outdoor Guide, go to TravelOK.com/Parks.

Ed Godfrey

Ed Godfrey was born in Muskogee and raised in Stigler. He has worked at The Oklahoman for 25 years. During that time, he has worked a myriad of beats for The Oklahoman including both the federal and county courthouse in Oklahoma City for more... Read more ›

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