Are Pennsylvania Black Bears Dangerous?

Black bears are numerous in Pennsylvania, here is one standing om a rock ledge

Pennsylvania is known for its beautiful forests and wildlife, including the majestic black bear. But what do we actually know about these creatures? Are they harmless observers or potential threats to humans? This question has become increasingly relevant as the number of sightings in populated areas has risen.

In this post, we’ll take a closer look at black bears in the Keystone State and explore the potential dangers they pose to humans. So, grab a snack and continue reading as we delve into the world of these amazing creatures.

PA Black Bears: Are They a Threat

The state boasts a vibrant community of black bears that roam in the wild. It’s not unusual to stumble upon one while enjoying your favorite outdoor activities such as hiking or camping, and in some cases, even within city limits.

The question most individuals ask is whether they pose any threats. The answer to this is twofold. Generally, black bears are not known to be aggressive towards humans but can become dangerous when they feel trapped or are accustomed to human food. In addition, wild animals are always unpredictable, so it is vital to take precautions when in their territory.

Many people wonder if black bear attacks are common in Pennsylvania. The truth is, while bears are common throughout the state, attacks are rare, but they do happen.

One such incident happened in 2018 when a woman in Muncy Creek Township in Lycoming County went outside her home with her dog.

She was attacked and dragged approximately 80 yards before she could fend off the bear and get back to her house to call for help. As a result, she was hospitalized with multiple injuries.

Black bear mother with young in forest

Here are some important things to understand about these animals:

1. Black bears are not typically aggressive towards humans, as they prefer to avoid contact. Instead, they lean towards shyness and try to steer clear of humans whenever possible.

Nevertheless, they may retaliate to defend themselves if they sense danger or feel threatened. This shouldn’t suggest that they are actively looking for trouble, but it’s essential to take the necessary precautions and avoid disrupting their natural habitat to avoid an unwanted confrontation.

2. As previously mentioned, attacks in the state are incredibly rare. However, it’s important to remember that they can happen. Therefore, if you’re out enjoying nature, taking the necessary precautions to protect yourself is crucial.

3. Research has shown that they develop a strong attraction to human food, which can lead to problematic behaviors such as increased aggression towards humans. When these creatures become habituated to human food, they may go to great lengths to access it. Such behavior may even result in them breaking into cars or homes in search of food. Therefore, it is essential to practice safe food storage techniques when camping or living in areas where these animals roam.

Keystone Answers Fun Fact: The bear population in Pennsylvania is estimated to be around 18,000, an increase from the 1970s when the population was less than 5,000.

Large black bear walking through corn field

4. When in the presence of black bears, it’s important to maintain a safe distance to avoid provoking them. If you come across one, give it plenty of space and respect its boundaries. It is never advisable to approach it, and it’s crucial not to attempt to feed or take selfies with them. Remember, these creatures are wild animals and should be treated cautiously and respectfully to avoid potential harm.

5. They have an incredible sense of smell. These omnivores are known for their powerful sense of smell, which can detect food from miles away. This is why storing your food correctly is so important when camping or hiking.

6. Black bears can be notoriously unpredictable, even if they’re not naturally aggressive towards humans. Therefore, it’s essential to exercise caution when around these creatures. If you happen to come across one, it is important to remain calm and don’t make any sudden movements. This will allow you to maintain a safe distance and avoid triggering any aggressive behaviors that could prove potentially dangerous.

7. If you encounter an aggressive one, report it to the local authorities immediately. Reporting such incidents can help to protect both the bear and humans. In addition, local authorities have the expertise and resources to handle such situations safely and humanely. So, remember to report any such encounters to help ensure public safety and minimize potential harm to these magnificent creatures.

So bears in Pennsylvania are generally not dangerous, but they will attack humans on rare occasions. When out in nature, be aware of your surroundings and carry a canister of bear spray to be on the safe side.

Black bear family feeding in a forest clearing

Tips to Stay Safe

So, how can you stay safe from a bear in Pennsylvania? Here are some tips to keep in mind:

  • Always keep a safe distance. The National Park Service recommends keeping a distance of at least 100 yards.
  • Make noise while in the woods to avoid surprising a bear. Even just talking or singing can alert them to your presence.
  • If you accidentally come across one, remain calm and avoid making direct eye contact. Stay still; stand your ground but slowly wave your arms. Tell the bear to back off in a low, calm voice, do not scream or yell, as it may think you are a prey animal. 
  • Hike in groups, a lot of people make more noise, and as groups look larger, it intimidates them.
  • If one approaches you, stand your ground and make yourself look as large as possible. You can do this by raising your arms above your head or standing on your tiptoes. This action can sometimes intimidate it into retreating. If the bear is not moving, slowly move sideways away from it.
  • Remember, you should never try to run away. They are much faster than humans and can easily catch up to you.
  • Do not climb a tree, as they also can climb trees.
  • If attacked by a black bear, do not play dead; fight back, use anything available, like rocks, sticks, or a knife, and concentrate on its face and muzzle.
  • Carry bear spray when hunting, hiking, and exploring, and know how to use it.

Friend or Foe?

In conclusion, Pennsylvania black bears might seem imposing and intimidating, but they are generally not a threat to humans as long as we take the necessary precautions. It’s important to remember that we are the visitors in their habitat, and respect should be shown towards these magnificent creatures. By keeping the above tips in mind, you can safely enjoy the beautiful wildlife that Pennsylvania has to offer.

Photo of author


Pennsylvania is my home state; I reside on the original homestead settled by my forefathers in the early 1800s. Surrounded by thousands of acres of state land, I enjoy the serenity and quiet of rural Pennsylvania. I like ATVing, observing wildlife, sitting around the campfire, photography, and hiking.