The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) held a community meeting in the Agriculture and Farm center of the New York State Fairgrounds in Solvay last Wednesday. The purpose was to gain public input into the spreading black bear population in the state.
Although there has only been a handful of sightings in Onondaga County, bears are resident Broome and Tioga Counties and are routinely seen in portions of Tompkins and Chenango Counties.
"Recent trends show that bears are expanding their range," said Dave Riehlman of the DEC's big game division. "In 15-20 years, Onondaga County may have resident bears living in the area, or at least they'll be knocking on the door."
But are black bears a concern for Onondaga County right now?
"This year we had at least two reports of bear sightings in Onondaga County," Riehlman said. "We don't know if the reports are about the same bear, or if two separate bears were sighted."
DEC spokesperson Diane Carlton confirmed the sightings.
"The reports came from Tully and Dryden," Carlton said. "The trend seems to be that they're heading north."
After suffering drastic population reductions 1800's, conservation measures paved the way for a black bear comeback. Bears have had secure populations in the Adirondacks, Catskill and Allegany regions for several years. Taking advantage of reforestation in much of upstate New York, they have made significant strides and have expanded into surrounding areas.
"Part of the migration is because of food," Carlton said. "There is no hunting season in the southern tier. When food becomes in short-demand, they tend to move north."
Usually black bears are not a threat to people. The DEC is taking a pre-emptive measure by scheduling meetings in the Central New York area to teach people the behaviors and practices that go with living in bear territory.