Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

August 16, 2013

A definite trend

Black bears continue to move west as numbers increase

The Independent

ASHLAND — A black bear spotted last week near Central City is further evidence of the ever-increasing population of bears in Kentucky and how they are continuing to migrate further and further west.

Many of us can remember when black bears were extremely rare, if not nonexistent, in Kentucky. It was not so long ago that if you wanted to see a black bear in the wild, you needed to drive east into the mountains of neighboring West Virginia, which has always had a large number of bears.

But about 20 years ago, black bears began to move westward into eastern Kentucky. Their numbers now have become so great, that the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources has begun to offer a limited bear hunting season in four southeast Kentucky counties during one weekend a year. While few bears have actually been killed by hunters during those brief seasons, wildlife officials and hunters agree that the bears are there; they are just proving more difficult to hunt than many thought they would be.

Meanwhile, reports of bears ravaging garbage cans at campgrounds and at rural residences have steadily increased in recant year, with campers being advised to protect their food supplies before retiring for the night. In some small mountain communities bears have become a real nuisance.

For the most part, the bears have remained in the eastern most areas of Kentucky, particularly in the southeastern corner of th state. But that is changing as evidenced by the black bear spotted near Central City. Despite its name, Central City is not in central Kentucky. It is in far western Kentucky, being much closer to Paducah than Lexington.

Residents near Central City first reported seeing a bear a week ago. Muhlenberg County Dispatch Center Director Kristi Jenkins says the first calls that came in Tuesday night reported the bear was near U.S. 431. On Wednesday morning, it was seen in the back yard of a home.

Central City Police Chief Brent Roberson says that was the last sighting despite officers patrolling the area looking for the animal. The homeowner “had a wildlife camera set up and he actually captured the bear on the video,” Roberson said.

Although sightings of black bears  aren’t uncommon in eastern Kentucky, Roberson says it’s “just not normal for this area.”

However, that may be about to change. After all, last month, a family in an Ohio County — also in western Kentucky — reported seeing a black bear.

Residents need not be overly concerned. As folks in West Virginia already know, it is possible for humans and bears to peacefully live in the same area.