The Missouri Department of Conservation is relatively confident that recent black bear sightings in and around St. Clair are the real deal.
In fact, one man got an extremely up close and personal look at one of the animals when it ran into his vehicle on Highway 30 near Meramec Lakes Golf Course.
More than a half-dozen sightings of a black bear were reported to the MDC in May, including the man who said he was traveling on Highway 30 in his vehicle near the golf course east of St. Clair. He saw the bear in a yard along the highway, and as he came closer, the bear ran onto the highway and into his vehicle.
The man said he stopped to see if the animal was OK, but by then it had ambled into the woods.
“We have had several bear sightings in the St. Clair area recently,” Tom Meister, wildlife damage biologist and the Franklin County “bear guy” for the state conservation department, told The Missourian this week. “We’ve had more reports of sightings in the last few weeks than we’ve had in the past five or six years.”
A couple of hours after the incident near Meramec Lakes, the bear was spotted on Highway K just south of Highway 30, or more than three miles away.
“That was at about 8:30 p.m. that same day,” Meister said of the Highway K sighting. “The accident had taken place some time during the evening. He (bear) traveled pretty far in that amount of time between the sightings.”
That was on Thursday, May 22.
“He hasn’t been seen since,” Meister said. “He’s probably either decided he was in a place he didn’t want to be, or he’s in hiding.”
Meister said he and Franklin County conservation officer Ben Pursley have talked to the man and his brother about the accident, and their stories as well as the consistency of the other sightings are proof enough to them that the bear has, indeed, been around.
However, no pictures have been turned in, and scat (droppings) have not been found.
Other sightings were reported as far away as Highway AH in the Moselle area as well as other places around St. Clair.
“We’re pretty sure he has been around, and we’re pretty sure it’s all been the same bear,” Meister said. “And, it’s almost for sure an adult male.”
The biologist said the animal undoubtedly was looking for food, a mate or both.
“It’s pretty rare to see them in this area,” he said. “They’re reported occasionally, but not like this. There hasn’t been anything consistent like this for quite some time.”
Meister said to his recollection, the last confirmed black bear sighting in the area was about five or six years ago in the Lonedell area near the school. He also said rumors that a few bears are living in parts of Meramec State Park near Sullivan probably aren’t true.
“Over the years, we’ve baited several areas in Franklin County, including Meramec State Park, seeing if there is bear activity,” he said. “We’ve never gotten a hit.”
Meister said if anyone happens to see the bear, he or she should not approach it and never feed it. The sighting should be reported to the MDC as soon as possible.
“If you see a bear, make a lot of noise,” he said. “Let him know you’re around. Don’t spook him. And stay away from him.”
The biologist said the animals can be extremely dangerous, especially if surprised.
Meister said the ultimate goal would be to catch the bear and collar it so it can be tracked and monitored. The bear would be relocated only if it becomes a nuisance.
The MDC’s St. Louis Regional Office can be reached by calling 636-441-4554.