Spotting a 300-pound black bear in a residential driveway may soon become more common in Frederick County.
Maryland Department of Natural Resources officials are reporting an increase in bear activity throughout the county in recent years, including 57 reports filed in 2012. Forty of those were for actual sightings, while the others may be from spotting bear scat or tampered trash cans, according to statistics from the department.
There were just 14 sightings in 2008.
Harry Spiker, a state bear biologist with DNR, said it’s not uncommon for stats to fluctuate year by year, but overall, the numbers are growing. He said bear activity is tracked several different ways to gather an appropriate outlook on the trend.
Bear sightings are just one way the population is tracked. DNR also tallies the number of roadkill reports involving bears. Six have been reported in Frederick County in the past two years.
Scent station surveys, or “sardine surveys,” are set up throughout the county to attract bears to a certain area. Each scent station records every time a bear is attracted to that station.
A bait station generally consists of sardines in oil hung from a tree. Activity is tracked by claw marks, bear scat, bear tracks or damaged bait cans.
“Over time, it’s definitely been climbing,” Spiker said of bear activity. “This is regionwide.”
The scent stations were first placed in the Western Maryland region in 1993. Officials recorded a 3 percent visitation rate in the first year, meaning 3 percent of scent stations were visited by a bear at least once. This year, that visitation rate has grown to 57 percent, Spiker said.
In Frederick County, scent stations have been in place since 2003, when stations recorded a zero percent visitation rate. This year, surveys show a 10 percent rate.
“It’s nowhere near the number of bears we have in Garrett and Allegany (counties), but again, going from zero to 10, it’s definitely growing,” Spiker said.
Growing bear migration can be attributed to a number of factors, including natural food supply and breeding activities.
Spiker said black bears in Maryland appear to be recolonizing their population, moving from west to east.
Adult black bears typically weigh between 125 and 400 pounds.
Spiker said black bears are not typically harmful, but residents should still use caution and avoid them.
“I like to tell people, treat it like they would a stray dog,” he said. “Don’t run. They have a chase reflex like a dog. If you run, it may chase you.”
Spiker advises residents to leave the same way you came to an area if a bear is sighted. He said black bears are generally not harmful and will not approach humans if there is no perceived threat.
Trash cans and bird feeders are all safety concerns, and having them outside may attract bears to the area.
Roger Chidester said he spotted a nearly 300-pound black bear in early September wandering around his yard on Hamburg Road near Frederick Municipal Forest. He said he was heading to bed late Sept. 9 and spotted the bear on his home’s outdoor surveillance camera monitors.
“There he was, just walking down the driveway and across the yard,” he said. “Later, I went up to another area about a quarter mile away and saw that he was in a trash can and a compost pile.”
He said the bear got into a bird feeder on his deck before making its way to the other neighborhood.
Chidester said he’s generally not worried about bears becoming harmful, but said he wouldn’t have wanted to be outside with a bear nearby.
“Later, I went outside and saw a guy walking down the road here,” Chidester said. “He was walking his dog, and I said, ‘I don’t think I’d be walking my dog right now.’”
Follow Daniel J. Gross on Twitter: @DanielJGross.