This story was inspired by reader questions. To submit a question or suggestion through our Open Source portal, follow this link.
MANSFIELD — A black bear has been spotted in Mansfield.
Mansfield, Massachusetts, that is.
Two Richland Source readers recently used Open Source to ask about recent bear sightings, reportedly near Madison Comprehensive High School and the junior high — kind of on the east side of Mansfield.
It would not be outside the realm of possibility for a local black bear sighting, according to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources Division of Wildlife.
Black bears are a state endangered species that largely dwell in forested habitats throughout the eastern half of Ohio. Sightings of these animals in Ohio have been increasing since the Division of Wildlife began tracking sightings in 1993.
In an attempt to determine if the reports had teeth, I reached out to the appropriate educational, law enforcement and wildlife officials.
On Thursday, I began by calling Sean Conway, the principal at Madison Comprehensive High School. With graduation looming, I knew he had other things to worry about.
But I have known Sean since his days as a football coach and I trusted he would believe I was not the bearer of bad news.
“Nope, that has not been on my radar,” he said. “I haven’t heard about any bears around here.
“But I will send someone out into the woods with a couple of steaks just to make sure,” he said with a laugh.
Undaunted, I fired off an email Thursday to Richland County Sheriff’s Office Capt. Don Zehner, requesting any information on a potential wayward bruin.
Zehner echoed Conway to my question about the wandering ursid.
“We have received no calls about this,” he replied. “I have a call in to the Division of Wildlife to see if they received any calls. When I get a call back, I will let you know.”
Fearing my story was barely hanging on, I called Richland County Wildlife Officer Nathan Kaufman. He was out of the office and I left a voice mail.
To be honest, I had kind of pushed the story out of my head by early Friday morning. Other story ideas had popped up. Newsroom conversations were all over the map, as usual.
There is only so many active cells left in my 62-year-old brain and there was no room left for a raccoon or a possum, much less a bear.
But the story roared back to life late morning when Kaufman returned my call.
“Yeah, I had heard about a bear sighting in Mansfield on my social media news feed,” Kaufman said. “I was like, ‘Whoa, how come I have not heard about this?'”
Kaufman, who has been the local wildlife officer for almost three years, started doing some research.
“I talked to the state wildlife staff and they have not received any reports of bears in Richland County this year,” he said.
Kaufman expanded his search to the internet — and found the likely source. It appears the World Wide Web has fooled us again.
“Black bears spotted in East Mansfield,” blared the headline in the Sun Chronicle in Attleboro, Mass., on May 1.
“Animal Control Officer Jeff Collins received two reports over the weekend of two black bear cubs in the area of Essex Street by Ware Street, police said Sunday,” according to a story written by David Linton.
“A motorist who spotted one of the cubs on Ware Street stopped to let it cross the road and its mom crossed soon after,” Linton wrote.
Black bears are large, strong wild animals that should be treated with respect. Seeing a black bear can be an exciting, and for some people, a nerve wracking event.
Bears should always be appreciated from a distance to ensure the safety of humans and bears. These recommendations are meant to be general and cover the basic types of human-bear interactions that can occur.
Encounters vary greatly, and all situations are different. Aggressive and predatory behaviors by bear are very rare, but possible, so it is wise to be aware of the bear’s behavioral signals and appropriate actions to take.
These recommendations are specific to North American black bears. If you live or recreate in an area where other bear species may be encountered, you should familiarize yourself with how to react in those situations, too.
In general, when you encounter a black bear you should:
— Remain calm. DON’T run from a bear. DON’T climb trees to escape a bear.
— Ensure the bear has an escape route.
— Back away when possible.
— If attacked, immediately fight back.
— DON’T feed bears.
Source: Various wildlife websites
Kaufman said it would not be unusual for black bears to wander into the more-wooded southeastern parts of Richland County, especially around Lucas and Malabar Farm and Mohican State Park.
“It would probably be a young male who ventures over. I haven’t see any mating pairs.”