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Sightings of bears on rise
Officials say residents should take precautions, be smart with wildlife
Bear 2
A bear is seen in the yard of John and Ruth Richardson of Forsyth County on June 23. - photo by Submitted
John and Ruth Richardson recently spotted a burly intruder by their home off Sinclair Shores Road.

The black bear, which John Richardson estimated to be about 6 feet 6 inches tall and weighing about 350 pounds, was feasting on a neighbors’ bird feeders.

In the wake of the sighting, John Richardson said he’s concerned about families in the neighborhood and those that may use nearby Bald Ridge Campground.

And he’s not alone. As reports of bear sightings in and around the Forsyth County area increase, officials are asking residents to stay smart in the face of wildlife.

Scott Frazier, a wildlife biologist with the Department of Natural Resources, said local reports have come in from three main areas this summer.

Those include Shady Grove Drive, which is one peninsula northeast of the Sinclair area on Lake Lanier in Forsyth, and around Browns Bridge Road on the Forsyth-Hall County line.

The third area is around the Chattahoochee Country Club, just northwest of Gainesville in Hall County.

The Browns Bridge and Chattahoochee bears were just reported as sightings, but Frazier said bears near Shady Grove could have been tied to some property damage in residential areas.

“That’s things like turning over trash cans, bending down bird feeders and chewing them up, that sort of thing,” Frazier said.

In a period of two weeks, the DNR has received about 10 calls regarding bears near Shady Grove, and there have been four sightings of the Browns Bridge bear.

Ruth Richardson said she first saw their Sinclair visitor June 23, while checking on her neighbor’s house.

At first, she said she thought it was yard art. She was going to call her neighbor and tease her about having a cut-out of a bear in her yard when the animal moved.

“And I thought, ‘Oh my God, it’s real’,” she said. “So I sat in my truck and watched probably for a good 15 minutes while it was destroying her bird feeders and licking up every last morsel of feed that was in there.

“It was holding it in its paw and shaking it and looking for more. It was really quite entertaining.”

Ruth Richardson said she went home, emptied her own birdfeeders and stored them in her garage.

Not long after that, the bear was on her front porch, looking at her through her kitchen door.

She did the right thing.

When residents find out about bears in or around their neighborhoods, Frazier said, they should remove anything edible from their property and store it indoors so the bear does not come to think of the area as a source of food.

“As long as they get food, they’ll keep returning,” he said. “We have bears known to return for months as long as there’s food available.”

Frazier said the best policy when seeing a bear would be to stay away and contact the DNR.

People who happen to stumble upon a bear and are relatively close to it should maintain eye contact facing the bear and back away slowly, he said.

When bears are reported as sightings, the DNR does not pursue trapping. However, if an animal is causing damage, the department will take action.

“Bears that cause property damage, we will pursue,” Frazier said. “In fact, we [recently] set a trap in an attempt to catch the bear on Shady Grove Road.”

He said the trap was there for nine days, but the effort was not successful.

The American black bears found in Georgia can grow to weigh about 600 pounds.

Frazier said bear sightings usually peak in the summer months, though bears usually will not attack unless provoked.

“I can think of no case in the state of Georgia where someone was attacked without a mitigating circumstance, so to speak,” he said.

“We are aware of cases where people have been scratched or bitten on the hand, and the person was trying to touch the bear, willfully touch it, or offer it food from their hand.”

A bear was also involved in an accident in Lumpkin County this summer. Frazier said a vehicle hit a bear and a person was thrown from the car.

Mimi Ensley of the FCN regional staff contributed to this report.