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Bear Board Report Part Ii

This article first appeared in issue 10, and was written by Ed Waggener.

Most believe bears are here. Even sceptics think it's only a matter of time until bears are common

In response to the report that bears can run 30 miles per hour, Gary Coomer responds, "If a bear gets after me, I can run five miles per hour faster than it can."


There is no other way to describe the mass numbers of bear spottings, problems and woes coming at us since the announcement of the Blue Ribbon Bear Board to got to the Bottom of Bear Business in Adair County.

One is at once exhilarated and boggled, elated and deflated, hopeful and hung down-both satisfied and searching for more at the same time.

For all that, to be at the epicenter of this Great Scientific Endeavor is, for Bear Board Members, a thrill. Each account of an Adair County bear spotting is a rush, sending a surge of ecstasy, a tingle, a rapture-the equal, one would think, of what the discoverers of quarks and black holes, of anti-matter and anti-freeze, of lunar water and Kentucky bourbon liquor, must have felt when mysteries were revealed. It is the feeling, Adair County inventor Lingan Selby must have yearned for in his search for perpetual motion, a feeling denied him when this concept proved not marketable, but murderous, and did him in.

For our world, inventorying the bear stock is every bit as significant.

As was noted in a recent Subcommittee on Bear Economics, the impact of finding a sizable bear population in Adair County on the county's fortune is simply incomprehensible. "If just 17% of the tourists now going to the Smokies come here instead, all the rooms at the Columbia Inn Best Western, Lake Way, Dreamland, and Beulah Villa won't be enough to house the hordes arriving here. There will be a building boom such as we have not seen since Mr. Roosevelt and the New Deal sent us Wolf Creek Dam." The is no doubt that bounty and bears-on a centrally located locale such as ours-are as entwingled as cheese and sandwich crackers or hot sauce and pickle dog.

So it is with happy but harried hearts that we press on. Still, the sheer volume of incoming bear data precludes the publication, herein, of a single, succinct and comprehensive conclusion to the Great Bear Question.

In this second report, we are centering on the Bear Country around the area from Gradyville westward north of the Parkway to the Metcalfe and Green County lines.

EXPEDITION reveals wealth of evidence-On Sunday, December 2, Gary Coomer, Tommy Giles, and I explored the area where a large number of bear sightings have been reported. We didn't see any bears or bear tracks, but we did see a large cedar tree which Gary Coomer thought had bear markings on it. It was above Moss Creek, between the creek and Moss Cemetery.

It was near the Moss Cemetery that a large bear came up behind Tony Bragg while he was hunting deer in the area one year ago. He was hunting deer, Mr. Bragg told me later. "I saw what I thought was a calf, but as it came closer, I could tell it was a bear. I hid and watched it for about five minutes. I don't know whether it was male or female, but it was definitely a bear. I check the tracks. That's how I know for sure.

We talked with Loren Bennett, Gary Coomer's brother-in-law, on Bennett's Ridge, and he told us where he had seen two bear cubs, about six weeks ago. They were down below a barn and Mr. Bennett was about 150 yards away. They were about a car length apart, he said. "They were sitting on their hindquarters, looking at each other. It was about daylight. I thought," Mr. Bennett remembers, "what in the dickens is that?." He looked long enough to be sure they were bear cubs. "I've looked for them many times since," he says, "but I never saw them again."

Mr. Bragg and Mr. Bennett are only two of several eyewitnesses in the area, who, regardless of the doubters, are willing to say for certain they have seen bears. Timberman Rex Bennett lives on the Weed-Keltner Road. He says some loggers cut a poplar tree on the Delbert Moss place with definite bear markings on it. "They sold the tree before there were any pictures taken of it," Mr. Bennett says, adding, "and that's a pity."

Rex Bennett said he has seen one bear. "It was over next to Keltner," Mr. Bennett remembers. "It was small, about the size of a border collie, and that's what I thought it was at first," It was about a year ago, and the bear was on the west side of the Weed-Keltner Road, on the late Enos Moss' place, he remembers. "When the bear started to move, I could tell that it definitely was a bear. I know that," he said.

A totally independent sighting at almost the same place was made by a Columbia Nurse Practitioner.

Don't tell Dianne Thiery there aren't bears in Adair County.

She's seen them. Two of them. Cubs. They were sighted in almost the same place as Rex Bennett saw the big bear.

It was in late spring, one year ago. "They were near our home, on the other side of the Weed-Keltner road. I was about 150 yards from them," she said. "One was in the edge of the woods. The other was out in the field. He was really having a big time, romping and rolling around the field," she says. When she saw them, it was at about 6:30 a.m., and it was a very clear day. She was going to the store at Keltner when she saw them, she said.

Mrs. Thiery, who is now the longest practicing nurse practitioner in Adair County, lives at 4461 Weed-Keltner Road, in the area where numerous other bear sightings have been reported.

Her husband, Doug, who has not seen bears in the area, says that he is confident that his wife knows what she saw. "We've both been around bears. She's seen lots of them in the county where more black bears are killed than any other in the country. I know she knows bears when she sees them." Mr. Thiery said that the Thierys often visit relatives in Price County, Wisconsin, and that place, he said, is the biggest bear hunting area in the U.S."

Mrs. Thiery says that she has not seen the bear cubs since. "I was really excited when I saw them," she says, and adds that she hopes that more are confirmed in Adair County.

She even hopes the Kentucky Wildlife Resources Commission will stock them here. "They're fun to see," she said, "and they aren't anything to be afraid of as long as you leave them alone."

Henrietta Coomer lives not far from the other sightings. Her home is between Morris Chapel and Highway 80 on the Weed-Keltner Road. She saw a bear last year. "It came up out of the woods behind my house," she remembers. "It was standing up on back feet when I saw it. I could see it pretty good-good enough to tell it was a bear."

Mike Younger was living in Gradyville last year. On one snowy March afternoon, in full daylight, he was driving the Walker Store Road between the Lyman Baker place and the steel bridge. "It was just after a snow," Younger says. "When I first saw him, it looked like he was sniffing a dead animal in the road. He was only about 20 feet in front of me, and he started running ahead of me. I followed and watched him for at least a full minute," Younger says. Younger now lives in Exie. He says he hasn't seen a bear since, but this animal definitely was one. He describes him as black, and about two feet high. "It was a bear alright," he says. "I'm sure of that."

Perhaps the clearest sighting was by Ronnie and Elva Jo Coffey of Keltner. It was a couple of years back. They had gotten dressed to go to the graveside service for a neighbor. "I went out on the porch," Mr. Coffey said. "I saw a black thing come out of the woods, about 1,000 yards away. I told my wife to get the binoculars. She took the first view and she said, 'You're not going to believe this!' When I took the binoculars, it was just plain to see. It was a sow and two cubs. We could even see the brown markings on their black fur," he said.

Mrs. Coffey knows what she saw. "I'm a hunter myself," she says. "I know a bear when I see one. These were definitely black bears. They were in the field we call the Wild Patch, because there is so much wildlife there-wild turkeys, deer, coons, you know. That day we saw them, it was really clear. We saw them with our naked eyes long enough to tell they were bears. And, in all, we must have watched them for a full five minutes."

Mr. Coffey says that he has also seen bear claw markings in the woods.

The Coffeys haven't broadcast what they saw, because there are sceptics. "Up at the store (Fishbacks in Keltner), some of them hoo-ha at the story. And we've even had game wardens say we couldn't have seen them, but we know what we saw," she says. And what they saw, they know, were three black bears.

Logger Otley Richard was reputed to have seen bears, but on contact, he says that he wishes he had and wants to see black bears, but hasn't had the luck yet. Still, he is confident they are in the area. "I haven't seen them. But the people I've talked to who say they have seen them are truthful people. I'd say they (bears) are there." One of the truthful people he cites is the late Shively Parnell. "He was one of the first people to spot a bear here. Then other people got to seeing them. "They're here," he said, "that's for sure."

Even so, there are sceptics. Some hunters in the area insist that they are in the woods here so often, they'd have to see bears, or evidence of bears if they are there. Still, another who has not personally seen the bears said, "I'm 50-50. And I really lean toward the idea that there are bears here. And if they are not here now, they definitely will be here in a very short time. Just look at how quickly deer and wild turkey took over."

This story was posted on 1996-12-14 12:01:01
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