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Bears in Town: F&W Tips to Keep them Away

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Vermont Fish and Wildlife photo by John Hall.
The phrase “a fed bear is a dead bear” rang true last month, when the Vermont Fish and Wildlife game warden had to kill an aggressive bear in Underhill on May 24. The incident occurred just as bear sightings have filled up Front Porch Forum, with reports of bears on decks, porches, in sheds and garages — even making off with ice cream and frozen salmon from an outdoor freezer at one residence on Macey Road in Middlesex. 

Residents are reporting sightings throughout central Vermont, including Barre City, Barre Town, Midldesex, East Montpelier and in Montpelier on Berlin Street, Bailey Avenue, Hubbard Park and Murray Hill, plus a “momma bear and 2 cubs” at Stonewall Condos on Hebert Drive.

And because of that, Vermont Fish and Wildlife’s annual appeal to residents to be proactive about containing garbage, compost, bird feeders and other possible bear attractants is well underway.

Stephanie Quaranta is one of several people who reported seeing a bear on their deck on or near Berlin Street. On the same day of the Underhill bear killing, May 24, Quaranta posted that a bear walked across her back deck at 4:15 a.m. on Berlin Street, and followed up with The Bridge to say it appeared again a couple days later, also early morning, both times caught on camera.

Jennifer Morton-Dow also saw a black bear on her deck on Cedar Hill Lane, off Berlin Street, at 2:30 a.m. on May 22, according to her post on Front Porch Forum, mentioning that there had been a bag of bird seed in a nearby shed. (“Said bag of seed is now gone and hopefully the bear found something better to eat in the woods,” she wrote).

Among the many ways to deter bears, Fish and Wildlife recommends Vermonters only feed birds during the winter months, according to its website. 

“Bears are very fond of suet and bird seed, especially black oil sunflower seed,” the site notes. And once a bear comes to town to feast on those errant bird feeders — or has sniffed out your half-full bag of bird seed — it will likely check out the compost. But compost isn’t the main attraction. 

“We have been receiving lots of reports of bears on decks, tearing down bird feeders, wrecking beehives, killing chickens, and getting into trash, compost and garbage containers,” said Vermont Fish and Wildlife Bear Biologist Jaclyn Comeau in a May 28 press release. “We are offering some guidance on how to compost at home without attracting bears.”

The press release notes how important it is to remove bird feeders until at least a foot of snow is on the ground, likely in December. “Then, make sure anything else that might smell like food is picked up. And keep your trash container secured inside a sturdy building and don’t put it outside until the morning of pickup. Beehives, chicken coops and compost bins can be protected with electric fencing.”

In order to comply with Vermont state law that requires food scraps stay out of the landfill, Fish and Wildlife encourages residents to avoid attracting bears by taking food scraps to drop-off stations. “You can locate these by contacting your local solid waste management district or town, or find a company that picks up food scraps for composting at www.VTrecycles.com.”

The department also offers composting tips to avoid attracting bears:

  • Use three parts of brown material for one part of green material. Browns can be dried leaf and yard debris, wood chips, which often can be delivered to your house free by a local tree service company, or shredded paper. Greens include kitchen scraps, vegetables and small amounts of fruits. Adding lots of brown material minimizes smells and speeds up composting.
  • No meat, bones or seafood leftovers. They do not break down quickly and are strong wildlife attractants. 
  • The food scrap ban allows people who compost at home to dispose of meat, bones and seafood in the trash, so they can be kept in a freezer until trash day. 
  • Give your compost oxygen by frequently mixing it or turning it over if it is in a container. This reduces odors and speeds up composting.
  • Does your compost smell? If so, turning it, adding more brown material and adding a layer of wood shavings or sawdust to the top should solve the issue.
  • Enclose your composter with electric fencing or compost in a hard, durable container with a lid that will be challenging for a bear to open. Some types of tumblers are bear-proof.
  • Electric fencing, with food scent added to the wires will discourage even persistent bears. 
If you are currently having a bear issue, delay starting your new compost pile until the bear issue resolves. Until then, keep food scraps in the freezer or bring them to a collection site.

For information about living with bears and to report bear damage, visit vtfishandwildlife.com.

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