A young black bear is seemingly making its way across Newton County, and has been seen this week in Neosho.

“We don’t have picture, but it’s been seen by a wide enough variety of people, that I can say, ‘Yeah, it’s probably a confirmed black bear sighting,’” said Frank Loncarich, wildlife management biologist, Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC), Neosho.

Loncarich said a woman reported seeing the bear west of Neosho on Monday and there was a report Tuesday morning of it crossing Missouri Highway 59 / U.S. 60 south of Neosho and heading east toward the industrial park.

“And then there were some sightings – some folks at Scholastic saw it – from the window of the building, and a woman came into the office Tuesday afternoon and she said her and her family saw it and watched it from their car,” Loncarich said. “They described it as about a yearling size animal, so not a cub, but a young animal for sure. It’s been seen by enough people that it’s confirmed.”

Loncarich said bear sightings are not uncommon in these parts, as young males typically disperse from their mother’s home range.

“The female bear, after two years, will kick the young males out her home range and they have to disperse and find their own territory or home range to set up,” he said. “So when they do that, they often end up in places where we don’t typically see them.”

Loncarich said a young male bear was hit and killed by a vehicle on Highway 59 just outside of Neosho a few years ago.

Loncarich said Newton County does not really provide bears a good place to find a home range, so those that are seen are mostly moving through.

“It’s hard to say if he will set up in the county, because what we are finding in Missouri with research is that they need larger blocks of timber,” he said. “Newton County having a lot of open land and not really large blocks of timber or many large blocks of timber, it’s probably not likely that he will establish a home range here.

“With a situation like this, it’s hard to tell how far he is going to range but I won’t be surprised if people continue to see this bear because he is in an area that’s highly populated, there’s a lot of roads, and he’s obviously not afraid of making himself visible, so I wouldn’t be surprised if we pick this bear up down the road, but I doubt that he’ll set up a territory in Newton County. I could be wrong, but the bear habitat here is just not as conducive for bears to set up a territory as it is further east.”

He said a bear sighting south of Joplin earlier this year came from a man who claims he saw bears of two sizes, though a game camera that was then set up at that location never produced any results. Loncarich isn’t sure if that bear was moving through, as there is a lot of timber but also a lot of houses in the area.

As bears do move through, Loncarich said you do not want them to hang around with you.

“Early in the spring when they first emerge from hibernation and this time of year,” he noted, “they’re hungry. Of course, being in dens most of the late winter, they’re looking for food and they’re looking for food that’s easy to get.”

Early when the berries are not out and insect numbers are low, Loncarich said bears feed on green vegetation.

“They’re opportunistic feeders: they get into people’s bird feeders, they’ll get into people’s dog food containers if they keep their dog food containers outside, or livestock feed, they’ll get into that,” he said.

If a bear has been sighted in your area, Loncarich recommends keeping feeds inside.

“You might not fill your bird feeders for a few days, especially this time of year when they don’t need feeders to sustain the birds,” he said.

He said dirty barbeque grills can also attract hungry bears.

Loncarich said these bears aren’t looking to stick around where there are people, they are looking for food and for territory.

“They’re not out to try to cause problems, they just do get themselves into trouble when they do get into somebody’s dog food and they do tear down a birdfeeder or something like that,” he said. “They’re just trying to eat, but we see that as a problem because they are destroying property, but they’re not trying to be malicious.”

If you should come into contact with a bear, Loncarich said the best thing to do is back away, and the bear will most likely run away from a person. However, he said, “If he stops and looks, maybe make yourself bigger, holler at the bear – make yourself loud and big – they’re not going to want to have a confrontation with a person — most likely they’re going to run away.”

Loncarich said many possible bear sightings never materialize because they will smell and know that you are in the area, and will vacate before you know they are there.

He implored the public to always contact the MDC if they should spot a bear. Loncarich said a data base is kept of all bear sightings in the state.
“Let a conservation agent, let your biologist, your local office know, you can go on our website and report a sighting there.”

He said a bear research project is ongoing in Southeast and Southwest Missouri, so any sighting may help that research.

For more information, visit www.mdc.mo.gov.