October 23, 2014

Elyria
Mostly sunny
42°F
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Would you share with a Bear?

B&W BearA couple of weeks ago I was invited to do the WEOL Morning Show, and one of the topics I was asked about was the invasion of wildlife in urban areas; Are we are seeing more wildlife in the city because we are destroying natural habitat in the wild? The position I took may be controversial, but I’m going to stick to my guns on this. I believe that wildlife is more prevalent in the city not because we are displacing it from the wilds, but because we are inviting it by creating a niche for it in the city.

Stay with me, I’m going to get a little cerebral this week. While I was a student at Elyria High, Mr. Lee taught me about Darwinism, and that any life form that fails to adapt to its environment perishes. This is a cardinal rule for students of nature and it’s an important thing for any naturalist to know. But one’s understanding can’t rest on Darwinian Theory alone. I’ll save you about two years of study at Ohio State and summarize;  survival of the fittest isn’t as linear as Darwin says, rather “nature tinkers around” and an animal can find a tiny little niche where it can survive, if just barely. Did you ever look at a weed growing in a crack in the pavement in the middle of a parking lot and think, “That weed evolved to live there!” Well, no. Rather it found a place where there was just barely enough of what it needed to survive, and it occupied that niche.

So when you see white tailed deer standing in your garden box or eating out of your bird feeder, this isn’t an animal evolving to take over the city; rather it is occupying a niche where it has found just enough of what it needs (food, habitat etc) and avoidance of what will kill it (predators, in the form of hunters and fast moving automobiles).

doylestown bear 2

It’s hard to say exactly how many black bears are in residence year round in Ohio, the Division of Wildlife puts the number at between 50 and 100. However, they are known to hibernate as close as Stark County, and there are confirmed (photographed) sightings of black bears in Ohio every month, about 200 of them every year. Maybe the forty miles between Elyria and the nearest Black Bear sighting seems like a big comfort zone, but an adult bear can cover that much distance in about a day. Still, keeping it real, there has never been a Black Bear sighting in Lorain County, at least not one that wasn’t accompanied by pink elephants.

Many of you old-time Elyria’s will recall that caged Black Bears were kept in Elyria’s Cascade Park for many years. But did you know they occasionally got out and roamed Elyria’s streets?

One archived account from long-time C-T columnist Connie Davis tells of a time sixty some years ago when Cascade and Elywood were much more wooded, much thicker, and there wasn’t a house between Glendale and Gulf Road. One day while the bear cage was being cleaned, one of the smaller juvenile bears slipped out the door and disappeared into the park and beyond. Legendary Elyria Parks Superintendent Johnny Machock teamed up his coon hounds and laid chase, but was unable to find the sneaky bruin. Then one day in late winter a call to the Elyria Police Department said a bear had been seen in the snow on Ohio Street. Sgt. Leslie “Brownie” Brown spotted the bear in his flashlight beam and chased the bear all the way down to Washington Avenue, losing it where near where the street dead ends in a circle.

The next day, Johnny Machock and his men found the bear and chased it up a tree. Over the years I’ve heard a lot of heroic stories about Johnny Machock from my father (who grew up in the Cascade neighborhood), so it was entirely believable to me when I read that Johnny then climbed up the tree after the bear, threw a lasso around it, and dragged the bear back to its cage in Cascade Park without further incident or harm to the bear. Today, such an incident would surely put Elyria on the national news!

If you should runinto a Black Bear, take a tip from our friend Scott Peters at the Ohio Division of Wildlife and don’t approach it! Stay calm, warn the bear by yelling at it, raise your hands to make yourself look bigger, leave the area, and report it to the authorities! No, you don’t need a selfie with a bear in the background, and no, you’re not Johnny Machock!