Wildlife biologists say black bears like the one that recently rambled through backyards in Atlanta's northern suburbs could soon be a permanent part of the community there, having cubs and multiplying.

State officials say bears could be reproducing well inside the Atlanta metro area within the next decade, which would mean a new way of life for suburbanites not accustomed to living in bear country.

Wildlife biologist Don McGowan of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources says trends suggest that bears will move well into metro Atlanta "and we may be seeing that already."

Researchers say bears are expanding nationwide, and are being seen in metro areas such as Birmingham, Ala., and Tulsa, Okla.

They say the U.S. bear population has boomed as hunting declined.