Total number of “nuisance” calls about bears made to the DNR (2010-2014)
- Newton: 14
- Jasper: 1
- Morgan: 3
- Rockdale: 2
- Walton: 6
Information courtesy of the Georgia DNR’s Wildlife Resources Division
Note: These bear sightings may or may not be confirmed by DNR personnel, and the same bear could have been seen multiple times.
A large bear was spotted south of Newborn this week, and the Jasper County man who initially reported the bear says there is evidence it’s hanging around, but an official with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources said real concern doesn’t set in until a bear starts damaging property or stops showing fear.
Jasper County resident Darrell Stowe, who lives on Gaissert Road south of Newborn, spotted a black bear earlier this week and throughout the week he’s seen evidence of the bear, including tracks and large paw prints, trash taken out of tall crash cans without the can being knocked over, a 50-pound bag of dog food dragged off his porch and slashed open and multiple injured dogs.
Stowe said he had to call a Jasper County deputy to come and put down his Labrador, named Sarge, after the dog came back with deep cuts to his chest, back and head.
“When I saw the bear, he was leaving from the neighbor’s trash can and stopped in the middle of my driveway. It’s hard to tell how big a bear when it’s on all fours, but when it stood up, that’s what got me. It was taller than I am,” said Stowe, who’s not a short man. He estimated it was 6-8 feet tall and around 250-350 pounds. “This is a really big bear.
“And that bear run, I mean it can move it. I’m talking about 30 miles per hour,” Stowe said. “I don’t want anybody to get hurt; that’s my main concern.”
Bear sightings not uncommon in Spring
Don McGowen, region operations manager with the Department of Natural Resources’ (DNR) Wildlife Resources Division and wildlife biologist, said there are periodic bear sightings in Newton, Jasper and surrounding counties.
He said there was a sighting last weekend around Jackson Lake, which could even be the same bear as they can “move a pretty good distance.”
The black bear population is actually on the rise after nearly being eradicated from Georgia in the 1930s, according to the DNR, which estimates there are 5,100 bears statewide.
A DNR press release this week said most bears spotted this time of year are young male bears looking for their own territory after leaving the protection of their mother.
If these bears are left alone and are not provided with easy food sources by humans, they usually return to their natural habitats, including the north Georgia mountains, the Ocmulgee River drainage system in central Georgia or the Okefenokee Swamp in the southeastern part of the state, according to the DNR.
How to get rid of a bear
Not unlike their male human counterparts, bears are attracted to readily available food sources. The key to convincing a bear to move on is to remove those sources, Georgia Department of Natural Resources officials said.
“Primarily, black bears are proven to be a very adaptable species, like white tailed deer and coyotes, they can evidently accommodate pretty well to human disturbance,” said Don McGowen a wildlife biologist with the DNR.
“They take advantage of food sources, dumpsters, garbage, bird feeders. They have proven they can live in close proximity to people and not be turned off by that,” McGowen said.
Items like grills and pet food should be stored inside. If bears become a regular problem, people can buy bear-proof garbage containers.
Once a bear’s source of food is removed, it should move on within a week or two.
In addition, if anyone sees a bear, McGowan warns that person to stay a safe distance away and leave the bear alone.
“As long as it has an escape route, it usually doesn’t feel threatened,” McGowan said.
People should then notify local law enforcement or the DNR.
Can I shoot a bear?
Black bears can be legally hunted, but not in Newton County. Of course, if a bear ever seriously threatens a person, that person’s safety is the highest priority, DNR officials said.
Hunting is allowed only in certain counties that encompass bears’ natural habitats; the nearest such county is Barrow. The hunting season for bears in northern Georgia ranges from Sept. 14-Dec. 1, but it’s divided into archery, primitive weapons and firearms.
Illegally killing bears and some other animals is considered poaching, a crime that can result in fines and jail time.
The hunting area for bears could increase over time if bear populations grow substantially in specific areas.
What will happen in Newborn?
Though he didn’t have the full details of the situation in Newborn, McGowen said the DNR will most likely just monitor the situation unless it ramps up.
“Capture and relocation is always the last option. The whole capture process, whether trapping or using capture drugs is very stressful on the animal,” McGowan said.
When a bear is relocated, it may not be able to survive or it could be relocated to an area with a more dominant bear – bears are territorial – and could get into a fight, McGowan said.
“Each situation is different, but for us to even consider relocation, the bear has to be in a very localized area and causing some type of property damage or has shown consistent aggression or a lack of fear,” McGowan said.
“Just hanging around is repeated numerous times across the state.”
McGowan said the DNR is monitoring similar situations in north Gwinnett and north Fulton counties.
Darrell Stowe, the man who spotted the bear, is raising awareness among his neighbors, warning people to stay out of the woods and be careful where they travel. He said his dogs regularly “raise cane all night” from about 10 p.m. to 3 a.m., and he suspects it’s the bear moving around the area.
For now, the bear appears to be afraid of people and doesn’t want to interact in any way, Stowe said, but he’s not taking any chances.
“I just hope some of the people realize it’s a serious thing,” Stowe said.