A set of tracks that the Creek County Game Warden has said are “most likely” bear tracks have raised a few eyebrows.
The new trails on the east side of Rock Creek at Kelly Lane Park in Sapulpa have become a popular spot for walkers looking to change up their scenery during their morning stroll.
One couple discovered a bit more than they bargained for when they went on a walk together last weekend.
Michael Owens and his wife Megan were walking the trail for only the second time in as many days when they decided to venture off the newly-paved path and walk down by the creek. When they got there, they found tracks that appeared to belong to a small bear. Owens took photos and contacted Creek County Game Warden Karlin Bailey about it. Bailey confirmed what Owens suspected; there were tracks that probably belonged to a black bear.
Of course, by the time he contacted Sapulpa Times, Sapulpa had received a few inches of rain, and the bank of Rock Creek where the tracks were found was now underwater.
Ten years of bears
It doesn’t happen often, but It’s not the first time that Bailey has gotten reports of a bear in the area. “I’ve been getting calls about bears for the last ten years,” he told Sapulpa Times on Wednesday.
A few years ago, he was called to the scene of a bear sighting near Sahoma Lake. The police had also been called, and Bailey said that by the time he arrived, the police had scared it off. In 2009, some bear tracks showed up near a new home development near Teel Road. A few years later, he caught his first case of someone seeing a bear: a woman said she saw a bear come up and begin digging through her trash one night. His response? “Put your trash up until it’s ready to be picked up.”
Parks and Rec Director Jody Baker echoed Bailey’s sentiment. “What we’re talking about here is really just giant raccoons. They don’t care about you—they’re just sniffing out a peanut butter sandwich at the bottom of that trash can.”
Baker added that it doesn’t mean that if you spot one, that you should try to pet it or feed it. “They’re not that docile,” he says. But at the same time, he’s not worried about the possibility of a black bear in Creek County. “It’s kind of exciting,” he says.
Bailey agreed, saying reporting that black bear attacks were extremely rare, particularly if you take the common precautions, such as putting away your trash, and not getting between a bear and her cub. “They’re much more likely to be a nuisance than a threat,” Bailey says, adding that he hasn’t had a report of a bear in four or five years…until now. “It could even be the same bear,” he said.
According to the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Preservation, Black bears are established in southeastern and east-central Oklahoma, but sightings are possible anywhere in the eastern half of the state and the western tip of the Panhandle. Though it’s rare to see bears this late in the year, Bears may risk exploring near a residence when there are things that will attract them, such as bird feeders, deer corn feeders, bee apiaries, and pet food.
In areas where bears are common, you can help decrease the chances of a nuisance bear encounter by:
- Rinsing outdoor trash containers with ammonia to eliminate odors.
- Storing cooking grills inside, or cleaning them of food residue after each use.
- Considering taking down backyard bird feeders for the summer and early fall, as the birds have plenty of wild food sources during those months.
- Use electric fences to protect livestock, poultry and bee apiaries. Keep them at least 50 yards away from wooded areas.
If you do happen to spot a bear, experts say the best thing to do is to remain calm and leave the area to allow the bear to move along on its own. Follow these tips if you encounter a bear a close range:
- Do not turn and run, as that might elicit a chase response in the bear.
- Stand and face the bear, holding out your arms or jacket to appear as large as possible.
- Try to retreat slowly, but don’t turn your back on the bear or block the bear’s escape route.
- If you cannot leave the area, make loud noises that could make the bear flee, such as yelling or banging on pots or pans.
Both Game Warden Bailey and Parks Director Baker are confident that folks who walk the trails at Kelly Lane have nothing to worry about. “If you’ll just make noise when you walk, by the time you get to where the bear was, he’ll be long gone.”
You can learn more about how to keep bears wild at https://bearwise.org