Editor's note: Max Crocker's name was misspelled in an earlier version of this story.
A black bear cub found dead near a southwest Kansas town may not be the last to approach the state's border, game wardens said.
A male, juvenile black bear was killed in an accidental crash Monday on Highway 56 near Elkhart, Kan., about a mile and a half across the Oklahoma state line, said Max Crocker, an Oklahoma game warden.
It may have been the young bear's dispersal — or trying to find a new habitat — that drove him to cross the Oklahoma panhandle to the Kansas state line. But drought conditions probably pushed it even farther than usual, Crocker said.
"This is the first one for the year, but it may not be the last," he said.
Spring wildfires in New Mexico and Colorado combined with a region-wide drought may be pushing black bears toward Kansas, said Kraig Schultz, a wildlife biologist with the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism. Even with droughts and fires, it's rare for one to make its way into the state.
The last confirmed report of a black bear in Morton County was in 2011, Schultz said, when a woman looked out the window of her home to see one sitting in a child's wagon. Three years ago, another was spotted on the opposite side of the state walking down a back road in Cherokee County.
When bears come to Kansas, they typically eat wheat fresh from the field as it heads out and turns doughy, Schultz said.
"They're here for a week or two then go back," he said.
Almost the entire Oklahoma panhandle is in exceptional drought, as are parts of southwest Kansas and northeast New Mexico, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.
"In years of severe drought, we commonly do have especially young, male bears coming in out of Colorado and New Mexico heading this direction," Crocker said.
The western end of the panhandle has its own small population of black bears, said Don P. Brown, a spokesman for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation.
Black bears and grizzly bears used to be native to Kansas, but now there are no permanent populations in the state, the Eagle previously reported. Experts say wild black bears from Colorado and the Missouri Ozarks could start to populate parts of southwest and southeast Kansas in the next decade.
If you see a bear, call wildlife officials, Schultz said. Give it a wide birth and don't bother or harass it.
"When it comes to bears, there is a factor of alarm," Crocker said. "I wouldn't be too alarmed unless it was in very close proximity to your house. And don't keep dog food and cat food outside your house."
As for the bear found dead on the side of a highway, there won't be any charges against the driver who accidentally ran over it, Crocker said. Photos of the bear were posted on Facebook by Michael Newmon.