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Wildlife Pittsburgh: Coyote, Deer and Bears: Oh My!

September 16, 2018
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A small black bear walks along a hillside in Morningside in June.

It wasn’t the first time Steve Diomataris had a run-in with a deer.

And living in Western Pennsylvania, he was certain it wouldn’t be the last.

“I’m not mad,” Diomataris said about the deer he hit with his truck last week in Green Tree. “Where can they go? It’s an inconvenience, but it’s their world, too.”

Still, the Mt. Lebanon man admits he, “wouldn’t mind if the deer could pay the repair costs of his truck.”

It’s a familiar refrain for many residents in the Pittsburgh region. Diomataris is just one of many who’ve had a close encounter with deer and other wildlife recently. In May, black bears were seen in both Edgewood and Bell Acres, and in June another was spotted in several Morningside backyards.

No humans were harmed, but they weren’t exactly the best house guests. The bears destroy beehives, bird feeders and garbage cans in most cases.

Matt Kramer, the state game warden for western Allegheny County and southern Beaver County, said there has been a steady increase over the past decade in deer, coyotes and black bears in the region. The type of wildlife depends on the specific location.

The Pennsylvania Game Commission has several tips for anyone encountering a bear.

• Alert the bear -- If you see a bear, make some noise to alert the bear of your presence, giving it ample time and space to turn and leave.

• Get back -- If you have a close encounter, back away slowly while facing the bear so you always know where the bear is and how its reacting.

• Stay calm -- Encountering a bear can be startling, but try to remain calm. While moving away, avoid sudden movements and talk to help the bear keep track of your retreat. Don’t turn and run or attempt to climb a tree.

• Pay attention -- Bears will use all of their senses to figure out what you are. If they recognize you as a person, some may stand upright or move closer in their efforts to detect odors in the air currents. Don’t consider this a sign of aggression.

Shannon Cassidy did a double take in July when she peered out her Forest Hills window and saw an animal eating a groundhog that had previously been struck and killed by a car on Brinton Road. She learned the next day on the NextDoor social media site that her neighbors were buzzing about coyotes in the area.

“I knew it wasn’t a dog,” she said. “Glad I don’t have chickens or outdoor cats.”

Beaver County has also seen an influx of coyotes, Kramer said.

While coyotes and black bears are a rarity that draw the attention of those who see them, deer is a much more common form of wildlife locally. Earlier this month in Ross, a deer feeding ban ordinance was put into place to manage the growing deer population throughout the area and will impose a fine ranging from $25 to $300 on any person who feeds deer intentionally.

Ross Commissioner Dan DeMarco, who authored the measure, said crashes caused by deer roaming the densely populated community is a growing risk to motorists and a health concern because of Lyme disease spread by ticks carried by deer.

But Kramer said there’s a reason for - what seems to be - more deer in the area.

“There’s definitely encroachment by humans into their habitat,” Kramer said. “We are building commercial buildings and housing developments, and they simply don’t have anywhere to go.”

Niko Gratteri of Economy encountered two coyotes on his family’s farm last month when he heard a loud barking sound late at night.

“Last month I heard one [coyote] barking at the garage until I turned the lights on,” Gratteri said. “Another time, I was working on a vehicle in my driveway and heard one barking and making noise right on the tree line. I took my big work lights out, and lit up the whole lot and it was about 30 yards away.”

Gratteri made noise and yelled at the coyote, prompting it to move away, but not before making “several challenging and warning barks.”

The barks, Gratteri said, were very deep and sound like a “bad cough.”

Despite any fear that humans may have of coyotes, Kramer said it is rare for them to attack people.

“They are highly adaptable,” Kramer said. “They bury their food source, which mainly consists of small rodents and outside cats.”

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