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Bear awareness

March 29, 2012

I awoke at 2:30 a.m. earlier this week to the sound of garbage cans being dumped onto their sides. This was followed by 20 minutes of rustling and tearing, as a black bear snacked on my neighbor’s garbage. The bruin then strolled down the road and repeated the activity at another neighbor’s driveway. The next morning was garbage day for residents of our rural road. Morning light revealed the remnants of the raid scattered around.

It’s the second visit in roughly a week. Concurrently, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) just announced that the regional bear population is on the move, emerging from hibernation and seeking easy food sources.

“A fed bear is a dead bear” is a phrase commonly heard, and unfortunately, often true. Bears that become habituated to human food sources such as bird feeders and garbage collection routes become a potential danger to humans and to themselves. They also become easy targets, as I discovered at a Pennsylvania bear check station during hunting season, where a hunter reported harvesting the cub in his truck bed as the animal roamed near a garbage dumpster.

The DEC has issued guidance on how to prevent “nuisance bear” encounters and to help bears avoid becoming casualties. “Typically, black bears are timid and will avoid all contact with humans,” DEC notes. “However, bears will become a nuisance and can cause significant damage if they believe they can obtain an easy meal from bird feeders, garbage cans, dumpsters, barbeque grills, tents and more.”

Once a bear becomes a problem, DEC is often asked to relocate it, which rarely works. Bears are extremely mobile and have excellent homing abilities, often returning to their original capture site or continuing their bad habits at a new location.

Following are some simple precautions suggested by DEC. Stop feeding birds as soon as the snow melts. Clean up shells left over from winter feeding. Do not put garbage out the night before pick-up. Clean garbage cans frequently with ammonia. Don’t burn garbage or add meat scraps or bones to your compost pile. Clean up barbecue grills. Feed pets indoors or remove all uneaten food and dishes before dark.

Final bear harvest results for PA in 2011 show that hunters harvested 4,350 bears, which sets a new record as the highest in the state’s history. Hunters in NY harvested 1,250 bears during the 2011 hunting seasons.