- Associated Press - Wednesday, August 16, 2017

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) - Wildlife experts say black bears wandering into Kansas from Missouri and Oklahoma will likely become established residents of the state within the next decade.

Two bears in southeast Kansas and one along the Colorado border were documented as recently as two summers ago. For most of the past 15 years, bears only have been seen in extreme southwest Kansas, the Wichita Eagle reported .

“We have reproducing populations getting closer and closer,” said Matt Peek, furbearer biologist at the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism. “If the habitat is right when they come into Kansas, I think we have the opportunity for black bears to become established.”

Experts said the possibility of Kansas having a permanent population of bears could cause safety problems. Neither Oklahoma nor Missouri have reported bear attacks recently, but experts are advising residents in those states on how to protect pets and livestock from the wild animal.

“They’re kind of like really big raccoons,” Peek said. “They have a way of getting into all kinds of things, but especially trash and crops.”

Peek said that grizzly and black bears called Kansas home before civilization. He said most of the state’s black bears were limited to areas alongside water and were gone from most of Kansas by the late 1870s after being hunted.

Wildlife officials said bears still deserve respect and that most people appreciate having them around because they’re native animals returning after being gone for the majority of the 20th century.

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Information from: The Wichita (Kan.) Eagle, https://www.kansas.com

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