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Southwest Missouri may see more black bears

American black bear stands on logs, alert, yet cautious, looking at the camera. Summer in northern Minnesota.

JOPLIN, Mo. — Black bears awakening from hibernation are now on the move and may be seen wandering around southwest Missouri.

The Joplin Globe reports that residents may see the animals in Jasper and Newton counties, as well as parts of southeast Kansas.

The potential for increased black bear sightings shouldn’t alarm people, said Frank Loncarich, a wildlife management biologist for the Missouri Department of Conservation.

“They’re not trying to cause trouble,” he said. “They’re just trying to find a place to settle down, and they’re also looking for food.”

Bears may move through southeast Kansas in the spring. The Crawford County sheriff’s Department notified residents on Tuesday “that there will be no action taken because of a sighting unless the bear poses a serious threat to public safety or property.”

The Missouri Conservation Department recommended property owners reduce the risk of bear encounters by not leaving pet food outside, storing garbage inside a secure bin and keeping grills clean. Those who see a bear shouldn’t approach the animal, but if encountered then make loud noises while appearing large to intimidate the bears.

“Definitely if you see it, do not try to shoot it,” Loncarich said. “They are not causing trouble, and it is illegal to shoot black bears, so you will get a heavy fine.”

He said the number of transient bears will likely drop in July and August. By that time, young male bears have settled down into a territory with abundant food sources, he said.

Missouri is estimated to have up to 350 black bears with the number steadily increasing, according to the Conservation Department.