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Into the Outdoors: Bear Sightings

Before we get to the main topic, a couple of things need mentioned. Yesterday, I saw my first bumblebee of the year, and my son saw his first grasshopper. The robins have been gone from my yard for three weeks, and I haven’t seen a single yellow jacket. What’s going on?

When I was a kid, bears were never, and I mean never, seen anywhere near where I grew up. This was the case in many parts of the state. Nowadays, this is not the case. Where a bear sighting would have once made the news, it’s now actually fairly commonplace to spot one of the bruins. These facts have led to much unjustified fear, as well as much unwise bravado when it comes to dealing with the animals. My friend, Dave Lewis, has spent considerable time and treasure learning all he can about bears. A while back, Dave told me that bears, as hibernation nears, are nothing short of desperate to put on calories, which means that they feed twenty plus hours per day. Given that, encounters are much more likely at this time of year. This means, that the likelihood of a bear paying you a visit goes up dramatically. Here are some tips from the Game Commission on how to handle a bear encounter.

Play it smart. Do not feed wildlife. Food placed outside for wildlife, such as corn for squirrels or deer, may attract bears. Reconsider putting squash, pumpkins, corn stalks or other Halloween or holiday decorations outside that also may attract bears. Even bird feeders can become “bear magnets.” Tips for how to safely feed birds for those in prime bear areas include: restrict feeding season to when bears hibernate, which is primarily from late November through late March; avoid foods that are particularly attractive for bears, such as sunflower seeds, hummingbird nectar mixes or suet; bring feeders inside at night or suspend them from high cross-wires; and temporarily remove feeders for two weeks if visited by a bear. Encourage your neighbors to do the same.

Keep it clean. Don’t place garbage outside until pick-up day; don’t throw table scraps out back for animals to eat; don't add fruit or vegetable wastes to your compost pile; and clean your barbecue grill regularly. If you feed pets outdoors, consider placing food dishes inside overnight.

Keep your distance. If a bear shows up in your backyard, stay calm. From a safe distance, shout at it like you would to chase an unwanted dog. If the bear won't leave, slowly retreat and call the nearest Game Commission regional office or local police department for assistance. Children should understand not to run, approach or hide from a bear that wanders into the yard, but, instead, to walk slowly back to the house.

Eliminate temptation.Bears that visit your area are often drawn there. Neighbors need to work together to reduce an area's appeal to bears. Ask area businesses to keep dumpsters closed and bear-proofed (chained or locked shut).

Check please! If your dog is barking, or cat is clawing at the door to get in, try to determine what has alarmed your pet. But do it cautiously, using outside lights to full advantage and from a safe position, such as a porch or an upstairs window. All unrecognizable outside noises and disturbances should be checked, but don't do it on foot with a flashlight. Black bears blend in too well with nighttime surroundings providing the chance for a close encounter. If bears have been sighted near your home, it is a good practice to turn on a light and check the backyard before taking pets out at night.

“Ideally, we want bears to pass by residential areas without finding a food reward that would cause them to return and become a problem,” former Game Commission bear biologist MarkTernent said. “Capturing and moving bears that have become habituated to humans is costly and sometimes ineffective because they can return or continue the same unwanted behavior where released. That is why wildlife agencies tell people that a ‘fed bear is a dead bear.’”

When you come right down to it, bears are kinda cool. Just use common sense.

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