State wildlife officials say witnesses spotted a 200-pound black bear and two cubs near the border of Fayette and Clayton counties in northeast Iowa. Vince Evelsizer, a biologist with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, says the sighting is significant because it’s evidently a mama bear and her family.

“She had to have had the cubs somewhere in the vicinity of the tri-state region,” Evelsizer says. “Whether they were actually born in Iowa is not known at this time, but it’s quite possible that they were.” If there are cubs, they would be the first cubs documented in Iowa in more than 140 years. Although once native to Iowa, black bears have not had wild populations in the state since the 1800s.

Bear droppings and tracks were found near some damaged bee hives near the town of Wadena and a resident spotted the bear and cubs. While mother bears are highly protective of their young, Evelsizer says the public shouldn’t be afraid, but caution is advised. “It’s neat if you do get to see them,” he says. “Maybe snap a few pictures from a distance and then leave the area and leave them be. We would just like folks to know about it and be aware of it.”

Evelsizer says a sighting of a breeding female and cubs could indicate a future spike in Iowa’s black bear population. Up until now, most bear sightings in Iowa have been young males, traveling through the state in search of new territory.