Black bear activity here in Indiana
Last week a black bear was hit by a vehicle on SR 15 in Elkhart County. Indiana DNR sent a team to investigate the bear to try and determine where it came from and how long it has been in the area.
Seeing a black beer here in Michiana is a rarity, but not impossible. I spoke with Brad Westrich, a mammologist for the Indiana DNR, and he stated, "Indiana doesn’t have an active black bear population, so most of the time we have 0 black bears in the state. Earlier this summer we confirmed our 4th black bear in recent history, so since 2015 that was our 4th black bear down in southwestern Indiana. Then this bear up in northern Indiana in Elkhart would be the 5th confirmed black bear in the state, so it’s very rare to have happen. Indiana is on the edge of expanding black bear territories, so there are black bear populations in Michigan and Kentucky and those black bear populations are growing and expanding. They are expanding into areas that black bears once lived historically so it’s not totally unforeseen that this would happen, but it is something that will happen more and more as those populations expand."
What exactly does make a bear wonder this far into northern Indiana?
Brad Westrich stats, "As black bear populations are expanding in neighboring states we are going to see these seasonal roaming bears as they move into Indiana. And it’s typically going to be in the spring and summer months when black bears are mating. So we are going to be seeing these younger males, which are getting pushed out of a territory that is established by larger males, which they are trying to control these territories so they can have mating rights with the females in those territories. The younger males are getting pushed out because they physically can’t compete with those larger males, so they go on these long roaming bouts where they just seek out food and an easy life until they get driven by hormones or the seasons to go back towards that bear population to seek a mate or to over winter". How far will some of these younger males roam in order to find that easy life? This distance can range from several miles to several hundred miles, which makes the expanding bear populations in Michigan and Kentucky seem not so far away.
If you do see any bear activity here in Michiana it is important to know how to go about the reporting process. Westrich says, "Should anyone encounter a black bear, whether it’s on security cam footage or in the distance, or even if you see tracks or suspect scat to be black bear scat in your area, you can submit that evidence, photographic or video, to the Indiana DNR. We have a website called report a mammal, where you can add the photos and put a pin on the map where you observed this evidence or the animal itself and the date and time this happened. We track those through time and may follow up if we need to."