NY's black bear population growing & on the move

Jun 6, 2017

According to Cornell University researchers, the black bear population is growing in parts of New York state. Scientists are continuing to track the black bear numbers, and hope to get some help from the public going forward.

Black bears are encountering humans in upstate New York now more than ever, according to Cornell doctoral student Catherine Sun. She says research published earlier this year shows bear population expanding from traditional ranges in the Southern Tier.

“Into the future we might expect bear ranges to continue to moving northwards if we don’t continue to implement management,” Sun said.

Black bear cubs
Credit Cornell University

Hundreds of years ago, when upstate New York was heavily forested, bears were everywhere. But their population fell after Europeans settled. Their numbers began climbing again in the early 20th century, when the state began regulating hunting.

Angela Fuller, a Cornell University professor also working on the study, says recent research shows bears don’t need that forest environment to survive anymore.

"Bears are really using a diversity of land cover types, and that suggests that a possible lack of constraints for black bears moving further northward," Fuller said.

Sun and Fuller studied bears in the western part of the Southern Tier, by snagging bear hair caught in a 40-square mile barbed-wire corral. Now they're looking for citizen scientists to add to the data. A web site called ISeeMammals asks for eyewitness reports of black bears from hikers, hunters and naturalists as well as pictures from trail cameras. And to make things easier, there’s an app called ISeeMammals.

Credit Cornell University

"We’re hoping that with both the web site and the app, we’re able to collect data, not just presence information where people see bears, but also where they don’t see bears,” Sun said.

Currently there are between 6,000 – 8,000 black bears in New York state, more than half in the Adirondacks, and the rest spread from the Catskills to the Allegheny mountain ranges. Those are the ones that are on the move. Fuller says this information will go a long way in helping the state deal with a shifting bear population.

“The research that we conducted allowed us to provide information to the [New York State] Department of Environmental Conservation, that will allow them to integrate it into their Black Bear management plan to effectively manage the bear population into the future.”