Black Bears Already Acting Up in New York State

Guidance on how to get along with these burly bruins.

Adirondack bear in trap

A trap used to capture black bears in the upstate region of New York State. Photo: New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYS DEC).

Officials at the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYS DEC) said now that spring is here, the more than 6,000 black bears (Ursus americanus) in the state are awake and on the move. They issued guidance last week on how to prevent negative encounters with black bears and reiterated: nearly all negative bear encounters in New York State are the result of hungry bears that are attracted to human food sources.

Wildlife Manager for the NYS DEC’s Region 5 in northeastern New York, Edward Reed, said his department has already received several complaints from residents about black bears who got their paws on human food. He said, “Black bears are awake and have a voracious appetite right now. They are just waking up and need to replenish their nutrients and body fat.” The bears’ big hunger is understandable when you consider they haven’t had a good meal since last November’s acorns and beechnuts.

The simplest way to avoid a nuisance encounter is to remove potential food sources.

Reed said last season’s warm, dry winter and dry early spring is a double whammy. “When bears wake up they are looking for fresh green vegetation so they can rehydrate and get nutrients from the greens. Rainfall is well below average this spring and conditions are quite dry. There is very little greenery for bears to eat this year,” he said. The mild winter also robbed the hungry bears of their carrion source. Reed said bears usually check out the winter deer yards to feed on the remains of deer who don’t make it through the normally long and harsh northern New York winters. The record-breaking mild winter meant more whitetail deer survived and there are slim pickings in the deer yards this spring.

A trap like the one pictured will be set today for a bear that broke into a camp in Inlet, NY, numerous times. Reed said they can’t be sure it is the same bear who did the same thing last summer, but he said bears have a good memory when it comes to food. The bear, who ate food that overwintered such as flour and olive oil, will be moved out of the area.

Officials said the simplest way to avoid a nuisance encounter is to remove potential food sources, which usually results in the bear moving on. Not every bear that passes through a developed area is a problem bear, but readily available human food sources can quickly turn them into one. Bears can obtain all of the food they need from the forest, but they are intelligent and opportunistic animals that will find and consume whatever food they can find most easily. Bird feeders, garbage cans, dumpsters, barbeque grills, unsecured out-buildings or vehicles containing food or waste are all potential attractants to bears.

Once a bear learns to obtain food from people or certain structures, it is very difficult to change the animal’s behavior. These bears are more vulnerable to motor vehicle collisions in populated areas, more likely to be illegally killed, or may become a threat to public safety.

Adirondack Black Bear Paw

A black bear paw next to an adult human fist. Provided in the event you have any doubt black bears are powerful animals. Photo: NYS DEC

In some cases, DEC is asked to relocate these bears. However, bear relocations are rarely effective at solving the problem and can be dangerous. Relocated bears often return to their original capture site, or may simply continue their bad habits at a new location. Additionally, if the circumstances that led to the original problem are not corrected, other bears may be attracted to the site and the human/bear conflicts will persist.

It is dangerous and illegal to intentionally feed bears. The incidental, indirect feeding of black bears, such as with bird feeders or garbage is also unlawful.

Occasionally a bear becomes so habituated to human environments and conditioned to human foods that its behavior creates a clear threat to public safety and property. Extreme cases can result in requiring the bear to be put down to protect the public. It is in the best interest of both bears and people for bears to get their food solely from wild sources.

To reduce the chance of negative black bear encounters around your home, DEC recommends these simple precautions:

  • Never feed bears! It is illegal, dangerous and detrimental to bears.
  • If you believe bears are being fed in your area, or suspect a nuisance bear situation, report it to DEC immediately.
  • Take down bird feeders after April 1. Birds do not need supplemental food in the spring and summer, when natural foods are most abundant (even if you believe your birdfeeder to be inaccessible to bears, the birds will drop seed on the ground, which attracts bears to your yard).
  • Clean off barbeque grills before night fall (don’t forget the grease trap), and if possible, store grills inside when not in use.
  • Store garbage in a secure building or location, secure can lids with ropes/bungees/chains; never over-fill cans, and dispose of garbage as frequently as possible.
  • If you live in an area where bears may occur, put garbage containers out by the curb just before the scheduled pick-up - never the night before.
  • If you live in a densely populated bear area, consider using a certified bear-resistant garbage container.
  • Clean garbage cans frequently with ammonia products.
  • Do not burn garbage: it is illegal and can attract bears.
  • Do not add meat scraps, bones or melon rinds to your compost pile.
  • Feed pets indoors and store pet food indoors. If pets must be fed outside, immediately remove all uneaten food and dishes.

It is important to appreciate and respect black bears as wild animals, from a distance.

To learn more about New York’s black bears, visit the DEC website at http://www.dec.ny.gov/animals/6995.html or look for DEC’s DVD: “Living with New York Black Bears,” available at most local public libraries in New York.

For more information about bears in your area or to report a problem with black bears, contact the nearest regional DEC office. For listings of Regional DEC Offices, visit http://www.dec.ny.gov/about/76070.html on the DEC website.

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