TARENTUM (AP) - When Wally Sommer bought his Howes Run home in Fawn decades ago, it was to tap the extensive tract of woods behind his house.
"Behind my house is a big vast area of nothing, and this is where this bear came from," said Sommer, whose pit bull, Dub, ran from the much larger animal during a surprise visit a few weeks ago. "It's the biggest black bear that you can imagine."
Sommer's large, four-legged neighbor that has an appetite for Dumpsters, garbage cans and bird feeders is among the new generation of black bears taking up residence in northeastern Allegheny County.
As the crow flies, Sommer's home is just a hill or two from the Pittsburgh Mills mall in nearby Frazer, where a young black bear made national news by entering a Sears store through a set of automatic doors in July. Amazingly, a second bear was sighted near the mall the next day. Fawn also is where a hunter last year bagged Allegheny County's first black bear in the state Game Commission's recent history.
The commission plans to systematically pluck those bears too close to civilization and scale back what has become a thriving black bear population.
This fall, an extended bear hunting season is planned for four of the state's 22 wildlife management units including Allegheny County and a cluster of counties in southeastern Pennsylvania near populated areas such as Philadelphia, Lancaster, Reading, York, Harrisburg, Lebanon, Allentown, Bethlehem and Easton.
In those locations, the commission is more than doubling the amount of time that hunters can take a bear - from September through the second Saturday in December.
"We're not allowing the bears to become a common part of the landscape in highly populated areas because there too much of a chance of conflict," said Mark Ternent, a wildlife biologist who studies bears for the Game Commission.
Last year, Pennsylvania hunters bagged 4,350 bears, the most ever taken in a season since the Game Commission started keeping records in 1915.
Development sprawl accounted for some loss of bear habitat over the decades, but overhunting in the 1970s also diminished the population, according to Ternent.
The Game Commission for several years didn't allow hunting of the animal and introduced a special bear license to let their numbers go back up.
The state bear population has tripled since the early 1980s to an estimated 18,000 to 20,000 bears now, according to Ternent.
"That's a great wildlife success story," he said. "We took a species native to Pennsylvania that was being over-harvested and brought it back. But the problem is that when the bear numbers go up so do the problems with bears."
There never has been a fatality caused by a black bear attack in the state, and the threat of an attack is very rare. But game officials say increased human-bear interactions could bring problems.
"Bears need not be feared, but they need to be respected," said Jerry Feaser, Game Commission press secretary. "They are a wild animal, and they are very strong."
According to Game Commission studies, the average weight of harvested bears in the state in 2010 was between 177 and 203 pounds, but the animals can exceed 600 pounds.
Statewide, Game Commission officers respond to 1,000 to 1,600 calls a year on human-bear conflicts, according to Ternent.
"Bears are very adaptable," he said. "They will utilize any type of habitat."
Information from: Valley News Dispatch, www.valleynewsdispatch.com
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.