State warns: Bear complaints on typical season rise

Spring has finally sprung, and large, hairy mammals are beginning to head out and forage for food.

No, I’m not talking about your Uncle Joe and his annual spring treks to McLaughlin’s for daily lobster rolls.

I’m talking about those other large, hairy mammals: Bears.

According to the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, this is the time we typically begin hearing complaints about black bears getting a bit too close for comfort.

And here’s some news for you: It’s our fault.

“It is important for people to be proactive so they don’t attract bears to their homes,” Jennifer Vashon, a DIF&W biologist, said in a recent news release. “Don’t wait until a bear gets to your birdfeeder or grill. the become accustomed to the location where they find food and they will return.”

According to the DIF&W, after spending a winter in their dens, bears emerge hungry, having lost between 15 and 40 percent of their body weight. Job number one for those bruins: Find some grub.

And while bears eat all kinds of food, after a late winter like we just experienced, some of that nutrition — buds, leaves, grasses — are developing late. Berries are still weeks or months away from maturity.

And because of that, bears are more apt to visit suburban food sources … like your house (if you or your neighbors leave food outside).

The DIF&W said that it has received more than 20 bear complaints thus far in 2014. Each year, the department handles about 500 complaints about bears. In 2012, that number grew to 812, while last year just 311 complaints had been filed as of December.

Here’s what the DIF&W advises:

– Take down feeders, rake up and dispose of bird seed on the ground, store remaining bird seed indoors.

– While taking in feeders at night may help, bears may visit feeders during the day. If you have problems with bears, the only way to fully discourage the animals is to remove all food attractants.

– Keep garbage cans inside until the morning of trash pickup.

– Keep lids on dumpsters closed at all times and schedule frequent pickups to avoid overflowing garbage. If possible, use dumpsters with metal lids and keep the dumpster in a building or behind a fence.

– Keep your barbecue grill clean by burning off any food residue, disposing of wrappers, and cleaning the grilling area after use. If possible, store grills indoors between uses.

– Store pet and livestock food inside and clean up any uneaten food.

But suppose none of that works. Suppose you end up with a bear in your yard. What do you do?

The DIF&W says to make loud noises to try to scare the bear away. Also, back away from the bear to give it an escape route.

Unity bear study gets cameras

The camera that captured this Maine black bear in April was placed at one of the Unity College prebait sites in Unity, Maine. Researchers are encouraging bears to frequent an area before attempting to trap them. (Photo courtesy of Unity College)

The camera that captured this Maine black bear in April was placed at one of the Unity College prebait sites in Unity, Maine. Researchers are encouraging bears to frequent an area before attempting to trap them. (Photo courtesy of Unity College)

A year ago, Unity College began work on a bear study project that involves undergraduate students trapping, capturing and tagging bears.

This year, they’re advancing their efforts, and a grant has helped them document some of their work.

Unity College recently announced that  a grant from The Venator Foundation included trail cameras and protective cases that are being installed at bait sites.

“The cameras and protective cases are ideal for bear surveillance,” said associate professor George Matula in a press release. “The cameras provide insight into bear behavior, and the cases protect against curious bears and human theft.”

The cameras are being set up to pre-monitor bait sites, hair snare sites, and trapping sites in the study area, according to the release.

The general public is encouraged to call in any bear sightings in the Unity area to 509-7269, or to report them to jwhelan@unity.edu.

John Holyoke

About John Holyoke

John Holyoke has been enjoying himself in Maine's great outdoors since he was a kid. Today, he's the Outdoors editor for the BDN, a job that allows him to meet up with Maine outdoors enthusiasts in their natural habitat. The stories he gathers provide fodder for his columns, and this blog.