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Bear Behavior Causes Concern 

Bird feeders, compost, unsecured garbage, and other food sources left out during the warm months when bears have emerged from their dens are a serious source of risk to bears, potentially encouraging them to spend time in human-dominated landscape. Photo provided by the Vermont Department of Fish and Wildlife.
By Carla Occaso

Vermonters appear to have mixed emotions when it comes to the subject of coexisting with black bears — especially when you find one knocking over planters on your deck! People report having joy at seeing bears off in the distance, but trepidation about having bears near their homes and walking trails. Recently a spate of commentary announcing bear sightings and encounters has occurred on public social media, at workplaces, and on the street. And this year a few people are speaking up on public social media forums against using hounds to hunt bears.

Human and Bear Contact in Local Neighborhoods

K.M. Kerner recently posted in Montpelier’s Front Porch Forum that he and his wife have had multiple sightings of bears while walking their dogs in Hubbard Park: at the entrance near the frog pond and at the entrance near the seven fireplaces. Kerner noted the posting is not intended as an objection to coexisting with bears, rather it is to make sure people are aware bears are frequenting Hubbard Park in small groups.

Also on Front Porch Forum, Lisa Katz relayed a report of a neighbor seeing a bear on Judson Drive, just off Berlin Street, and Liz Dodd reported seeing a bear on her deck on the corner of Foster and College streets. Dodd noted she does not have a compost bin and that the bear bumped over large flower pots “Keep your feeders and compost inside!” she wrote.

And E. John LePage of Barre City’s Front Porch Forum reported hearing about an uptick in bear sightings in cities. He urged people to be vigilant with feeders to minimize property damage and to discourage bear visits.

Take Care of Bird Feeders, Garbage and Compost

Theresa Kelty of Barre Town warns people to take down their bird feeders to protect pets and the bears. Bears are notoriously attracted to bird feeders. In that vein, Ric and Donn Venner of Wildersburg Common in Barre Town posted a sighting of a bear at the corner of Wark and Hill streets. It was destroying bird feeders left out the previous night.

The Department of Vermont Fish and Wildlife advises people to take steps to safely live with black bears. In a recent press release, Bear Project Leader Jaclyn Comeau said “Bears — and people — are at risk when bears spend time in human-dominated landscapes. Every time a bear finds an easy meal of birdseed, compost, or unsecured garbage, they are learning a dangerous association between people and food. Coexisting with bears starts with Vermonters taking proactive steps to help keep bears wild.”
Vermont is home to a stable bear population at roughly 4,600 to 5,780, almost four times the state’s estimated population of 1,200 to 1,500 bears in 1975, according to the release. Comeau reports the odds of human and bear contact have increased in Vermont as a result of earlier spring weather because of climate change, reduced bear habitat because of development, and human encroachment into remote areas. 

Tips to Thwart Bears

 The department recommends Vermonters do the following to protect both Ursus americanus (black bears) and Homo sapiens (human beings): (1) Take down bird feeders until December. Birds have plenty to eat without bird feeders in warmer months. (2) Make garbage inaccessible by storing it in a secure structure and in a bear-proof container. (3) Dispose of garbage frequently. (4) Demand bear-proof dumpsters for your community. (5) Compost responsibly — compost needs to be three parts brown materials to one part kitchen scraps, turned frequently, and kept in a sturdy tumbler or bin. For more composting tips, check out this link. (6). Use electric fencing to keep chickens and bees safe. (7) Clean your grill after every use. (8) Make bears feel uncomfortable in your yard by yelling, banging pots and pans and other noisy devices. Never shoot a bear with either a real gun or a BB gun. (9) Report bear encounters to the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department.

Bear Hunting

Others are less concerned about bears coming after them and more concerned about going after bears. Bear hunting season runs from September 1 through the day before the 16-day regular deer season. This year it runs from November 12 to November 27. Late bear hunting season runs from November 12 through November 20. The limit is one bear per calendar year, according to the Vtfishandwildlife.com. Hunters are allowed to use up to six hounds if the person has a bear-dog permit and no commercial guiding occurs. Baiting is also prohibited.

The practice of training hounds to hunt bears has raised ire among some people. Sophie Bowater of the Middlesex Front Porch Forum expressed concern about “bear hound hunting” training. Bowater writes that hound hunters use GPS devices and allow dogs to go on private property.

And, according to Comeau, “bear hunting is often a topic of public interest and I am happy to help Vermonters better understand its role in bear management and conservation, but I also don’t want to lose sight of the importance of highlighting the conservation threats.”

Conservation Threats Cause Bear Conflict

Comeau reiterated by email that Vermonters need to prevent bears’ access to human foods first and foremost for bears’ safety. Again, conservation threats facing black bears are habitat loss, climate change, and access to human foods — leading to conflicts with people. “Access to human foods can have detrimental impacts on the well-being of individual bears and the bear population as a whole. We are seeing an increasing number of bears killed on Vermont roads and we are experiencing skyrocketing reports of bears searching for human-related foods in backyards and communities despite population estimates that show our bear population has been stable for the past decade.” Comeau asserts the state does not have more bears than before, rather, bear behavior is changing because humans have been too casual about allowing bears to have access to garbage and bird feeders.