Shrinking habitat has bears on prowl

A bear-sized surprise has greeted visitors to Cobb County’s recreation department recently.

A young black bear killed crossing Barrett Parkway near Town Center at Cobb mall two summers ago has a new habitat.

The bear arrived back from the taxidermist in the past month, and he’ll be on display this fall for schoolchildren at the county’s Cato Environmental Education Center in Austell.

“He caught me off guard!” Shell Johnson of Austell said as she walked in the door to the county’s Parks, Recreation and Cultural Affairs Department on County Services Parkway last week.

“It’s pretty realistic,” said Johnson’s nephew Robert Horton, 19, of Mableton. “I thought it was a big dog.”

The young bear has no name because natural resource management coordinator Rusty Simpson thought it would be disrespectful to the wild animal.

The 130-pound male was at the stage where he was separating from his mother and searching for his own territory when he was killed.

“It’s unfortunate,” Simpson said.

About 2,200 black bears live in Georgia, according to the state’s Department of Natural Resources. The bears’ natural habitat in the Georgia mountains and foothills is shrinking, Cobb County Public Services Director Mickey Lloyd said.

“The development up north is pushing them out,” Lloyd said.

This summer, Cobb residents spotted bears looking through garbage cans and backyards near Acworth Beach on Lake Acworth, Lloyd said.

Another bear was spotted to the south in a neighborhood off Stilesboro Road, looking through trash, he said.

Like Yogi and Boo Boo, picnic baskets are on their mind.

“They want the easy meal,” said Melissa Cummings, a spokeswoman for the Department of Natural Resources.

Don’t approach bears, just call 911, Lloyd said.

It’s best if bears decide to move along on their own because they can’t find anything to eat, Cummings said.

Don’t leave dog food outside, and make sure garbage can lids are on tightly.

Bears will likely move away from what they consider bad noises, such as the clanging of trash can lids.

“If you make a lot of noise, it will startle them,” Cummings said.