December 1, 2023

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2020: Year of the Bear | Life

From COVID-19 to murder hornets, 2020 has been a year for the history books. If reading the news is anything like writing the news, sometimes it can be hard to bear. Sometimes, as we discovered in 2020, it can be hard to be a bear. 

Let’s take a look at this year’s biggest bear moments: 

A year ago, in the last few days of 2019, the story of an obese bear in Union County, called Dillan, drew national attention. Dillan the bear was living in a concrete cage at the Union County Sportmen’s Club, where he had been kept since 2008. Dillan was dirty, morbidly obese, and had severe dental issues. 

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Sign on bear enclosure at Union County Sportsmen’s Club.

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The backend of Dillan the bear. A exclusive

Animal rights group PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) started advocating for Dillan’s release as the bear’s story captured the hearts of people across the world. 

Dillan’s story took a positive turn in early 2020. 

January 2020

In January, he was moved to his new home at the Wild Animal Sanctuary in Colorado. There, he received treatment for his dental issues and was placed on a healthy, bear-friendly diet. Once he was well-enough, Dillan was moved the large natural habitat at the sanctuary where three other Asiatic Black Bears–Lily, Sun, and Moon–resided. 


Dillan the bear in his new Colorado home. Source:

There, Dillan immediately buddied up with his new best friend, Lily. The pair have bearly been apart since then. 

Dillan’s story did not end there, though. Animal advocates, including famous actor Alec Baldwin, continue to call for “justice for Dillan.” Baldwin even sent a letter to Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf in August stating the Union County Sportmen’s club “must be held accountable” for its mistreatment of Dillan the Bear. 


Actor Alec Baldwin (left). Photo by Gage Skidmore. Dillan the Bear (right). Photo by PETA. 

Dillan the Bear was unable to provide a comment as he was too busy with his morning stretches

August 2020

Things remained pretty calm in the bear-world for most of the early half of 2020. The bears were busy hibernating, and preparing their cubs for the real world. In August, however, things started to pick up. 

On Aug. 11, a 500 pound bear was struck by a car and killed in Sullivan County. The regional Game Warden’s office was notified and plans were made to move the bear. 

A few days later, local resident Matt Rinker started to smell the odor of a dead animal on his family’s property. 


The bear near the stream on Rinker’s family property.

According to Rinker, local Game Warden Rick Finnegan failed to properly dispose of the bear and rolled it down the hillside, onto the property of Rinker’s father, where the bear began to rot and smell.

Game Warden Finnegan claimed he was unable to move the bear because it “was stuck under the guard rail” and “it was too hard,” after Rinker called him about the bear body. However, the Game Warden’s statement appeared to be contradicted by photos of the bear provided by witnesses of the scene. 

A few days later, on Aug. 24, reports came in that a second bear in Sullivan County that had not been properly removed. 

A driver notified the State Police that a large bear had been struck by a vehicle and was along Route 220 near Dushore. PSP called the Game Warden to the scene for removal of the bear. 

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A bear carcass apparently left on the side of the road near Dushore after the head was removed. State Police were called to the scene and contact an area Game Warden to help dispose of the animal. This is the second incident reported of a bear being improperly disposed of in the span of a week.

According to a witness, who returned to the scene a few hours after notifying state police about the bear, something strange happened: the head of the bear had been removed, but the carcass was still in the road.

September 2020

In September, residents in South Williamsport woke up to a cute surprise when a mother bear and her cub were spotted peering from the top of a tree on Bayard Street. 


The mother and baby bear in the tree.

Nearby residents notified local officials about the bear and her cub, and the fire department came quickly to asses the situation.


A police officer surveys the tree from a distance.

Shortly after, police officers and officials from the Game Commission arrived at the scene. It was decided that the safest thing to do would be to move the bear and her cub to a less populated area in Potter County.

October 2020

In the first week of October, Fat Bear Week 2020 gave the country’s biggest bears their chance to be crowned champion.


The bracket for Fat Bear Week 2020. 

It’s survival of the fattest in the wilds of Katmai National Park and Preserve in Alaska and the local bears went belly-to-belly to find out who would be 2020’s champion. Votes were cast every day as the large contestants advanced to the next round or were eliminated from the contest. 

Reigning champion from 2019, Holly, was ousted by a new champion this year leaving some shocked. It came down to “Chunk,” a large male Grizzly who’s name says it all; and “747,” who is nearly as big as the aircraft of his namesake. 


Bear 747 hanging out at Brooks Falls. Photo by Katmai National Park and Preserve. 

The champion of 2020’s Fat Bear Week? 747, of course! 

December 2020

And, finally, in December our region had some of the largest Pennsylvania Bear Harvest totals in the state. 

As of Dec. 1, a combined total of 3,178 bears were harvested statewide. Potter (177) bumped out Tioga (171) and Lycoming (169) to become second place for total harvests. Potter County earned a spot on the statewide leader board for largest bear, coming in 4th place with a 633 pounder harvested there.

So there you have it, the bear necessities of the bear stories in 2020. As we look forward to 2021, let’s keep our fingers (and paws) crossed that the next year will be a little more bearable. 

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