Lee’s Summit residents report seeing a black bear near their subdivision

A bear roamed through southwest Lee’s Summit recently.

At least a big, blackish-brown animal was seen that two residents identify as a bear.

Missouri Department of Conservation officials haven’t confirmed a bear is in this area, but it’s not impossible.

In June, people farther south reported seeing a bear outside the species’ normal Missouri range, a sighting that was confirmed by the Missouri Department of Conservation.

MDC officials said a black bear seen in Benton County June 25 had moved to Morgan County by July 2, and agency officials think it could be the same bear seen in recent weeks wandering through Barton, Vernon and Bates counties.

Bates County is just south of Cass County, where Lee’s Summit has its southern border. A few bears in past years have ranged into north Missouri and trekked to Iowa, but did not survive, according to the MDC.

However, the department hasn’t confirmed any bears in Lee’s Summit, said Bill Graham, a department spokesman.

Kelly Greeninger said she saw the bear about 6 p.m. June 29 crossing Pryor Road from one field to another near Hawthorn Hill Elementary School and the Eagle Creek subdivision.

“I have big dogs, I know it wasn’t a dog, it was big, black and lumbering across the road,” Greeninger said. “There’s no way it’s supposed to be a bear, but that’s what I saw.”

The animal stopped in a brushy spot. She waited for it to emerge. “My heart was racing,” she said.

It didn’t, so she went home.

A friend, Tammy McCoy, said she saw a bear, about 9 p.m. June 27. She said she had been skeptical of what she’d seen – she only got a glimpse – until she read later on Facebook that Greeninger had seen the bear too.

McCoy said she and her husband were returning from dinner, traveling south on Pryor Road past Scherer. She glanced to right and saw a large, blackish-brown animal hunched over eating.

Not a deer, not a coyote. She’d recognize those.

McCoy said she works at Kansas City International Airport, rising early to go to her job. She frequently sees all kinds of wildlife and is familiar with common animals.

Her husband didn’t see it. He suggested it might be a mountain lion. McCoy said no, it was bigger.

“My brain was thinking bear, but I didn’t want to say bear because I knew there are no bears in Missouri,” McCoy said. When she saw Greeninger’s Facebook message, McCoy did a Google search for bears and learned about Missouri’s bears and the other sightings.

She said she contacted the MDC, but she missed the agency’s call back, so now they’re playing phone tag.

The possible sighting caused a flurry of excitement in the Eagle Creek subdivision. People were a little alarmed, but after doing some research, mostly they joke about watching out for the bear, McCoy said.

Missouri’s black bears live in forested, southern counties and they don’t often stray to west-central Missouri or to the north.

Conservation Agent David Harms took a distant photo of the other bear about five miles west of Lincoln, Mo. It was in brush near a field beside Route C. A citizen notified Harms about the bear, Graham said in a news release.

That bear could be a young male, according to Jeff Beringer, a resource scientist for the MDC.

Beringer is leading a black bear study in Missouri to determine their numbers and range. Young males will disperse from their home territories and usually keep moving until they find habitat with female bears.

Some bears trapped and then outfitted with radio tracking collars for the MDC study have started north but always returned south, he said. The bear in Morgan County does not have a tracking collar.

Most bears shy away from people and pose little threat to humans and livestock. They should not be fed, the MDC said, as they’re always looking for their next meal and can become a nuisance or even a danger if fed.

It is illegal to kill a black bear in Missouri unless protecting human life or personal property.

Black bears are native to Missouri. Hunters nearly eliminated the animal from the state following settlement in the 1800s and habitat loss that continued in the 1900s.

Some bears returned to the state’s southern counties due to a re-introduction in Arkansas that began in the 1950s. Some researchers, based on genetic study, believe those bears may have bred with a remnant of black bears’ original population in Missouri that still managed to survive.

Their numbers have slowly grown, mostly south of Interstate 44.

Biologists estimate the state’s bear population at 150 to 300 bears in scattered habitats. The study now underway will help develop a more accurate population estimate and an idea where most of the state’s reclusive bears live.