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Secretary’s Message: Welcoming Back our Birds, Bees… and Bears!

Welcoming Back our Birds, Bees… and Bears!

Photo of man holding a bear cub

During bear den visits, DNR staff hold cubs to keep them warm while biologists and veterinarians tag and evaluate the sow. Photo by AJ Metcalf, Maryland Department of Natural Resources.

We are surrounded by the sights and sounds of wildlife emerging at the beginning of spring. It’s the time of the year when we hear more birds singing in the budding trees and animals becoming more active. But perhaps the biggest sign of spring, lumbering through many parts of our state, is the black bear. 

In many places, black bears have already emerged from winter dens, putting their powerful sense of smell to work in search of easily accessible food sources. Bears are most common in Maryland’s four westernmost counties – Allegany, Frederick, Garrett, and Washington, which is known as Maryland’s bear country. However, they can be found anywhere in central and southern Maryland, particularly during spring when young male bears tend to wander into new areas looking for a chance to establish their own territory. These are the bears that often find themselves making news with appearances in suburban neighborhoods, mall parking lots, and even urban centers like Washington, D.C. 

Keeping watch on these magnificent mammals is our devoted team in the Wildlife and Heritage Service. I had the great pleasure to tag along – quite literally – with our Black Bear Research Team’s spring bear den survey in those four counties that comprise Maryland’s bear country. Tagging and monitoring the success of these bears is part of our overall management strategy to protect our bear population by keeping bears and humans a safe distance from one another.

This season our team checked six dens, finding six sows and 18 cubs. During their survey work this spring, our team handled a 305-pound, 26-year-old sow. State Bear Biologist and Game Animal Section Leader Jonathan Trudeau said she is the oldest bear on record in Maryland, indicating that our bear population is healthy and has ample food out there for them.

There are between 800 and 2,000 bears in the state, and each builds on the state’s repopulation success story. Several decades ago, Maryland’s black bear population was nearly extirpated, or locally eliminated, and in 1972 the black bear was listed on the state endangered species list.

Through conservation action, Maryland’s bear population has since rebounded from these historical lows. Improving habitat conditions in the mid-Appalachian region have allowed bear populations to slowly grow in Maryland and neighboring states.

An essential part of managing the bear population is learning to be a good neighbor. The Maryland Department of Natural Resources recently partnered with BearWise, a non-governmental organization dedicated to providing the public with sound, relevant, and easily interpretable information on black bears. 

For more information on living with black bears and bear behavior, residents should visit the Maryland Department of Natural Resources black bear webpage or BearWise.