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Into the Outdoors - Bears

As promised last week, this week’s column will focus on bears. When it comes to the black bear (Ursus americanus) I go to my old friend Dave Lewis, who is a walking encyclopedia on the critters. He has studied them extensively, both academically and by personal observation. The information included in this column should be credited to him.

A lot of us can remember when bears were simply not an issue in most of our area. Now, they seem to be everywhere, and we must live with that fact. Personally, I do not find it troubling. I rather enjoy seeing them. The cold fact of the matter is that they can become a big, even dangerous nuisance. Most of the time, it is more our fault than theirs.

I was surprised to learn that bears actually eat the least in the spring of the year. I thought that they would be ravenous, but that is not the case. As summer progresses, and the food supply increases, they feed more and more. Fruits, berries, nuts, acorns and a wide variety of food sources become available. Farm crops are not exempt.

I also learned a lot about the so called hibernation of bears. In late October until mid-November, pregnant sow bears will start to look for a place to den up and have their cubs. When born, the cubs are both blind and deaf, and weigh only about twelve ounces. They are born around the middle of January, and by the beginning of April they weigh between five and seven pounds. Their mothers start teaching them how to be bears by taking them short distances from the den.

Male bears (boars) do not den up as long as food is available for them. When food is available, they continue to feed until they cannot take in as many calories as they expend. If that happens, they will nap out until food once again becomes available. In the South, bears which are not pregnant do not den up at all, as food is available throughout the year. When you come right down to it, bears are not true hibernators like chipmunks and groundhogs.

Dave also provided some basic rules for peacefully coexisting with our black furred friends. First of all, don’t approach bears or feed them. If you do, they quickly learn to associate humans with food sources. This could easily turn into a dangerous situation. Remember, while they may look cute and cuddly, they are extremely strong and well armed animals. While their eyesight is poor, bears have an almost unbelievable sense of smell. They can smell food from miles away. It is important to secure food, garbage, etc. I have a dumpster, but bears are known to get into, or even totally upset dumpsters.

Bird feeders are a big favorite when it comes to bear. Seeds contain a lot of calories. If you are aware of bear presence, be sure to bring your feeders in at night, as this is the bear’s favorite time to have an easy snack.

I love to grill outside, so this next rule really applies to me. Always clean and store your grill after use, and if there is spilled grease, and there usually is, in the area, be sure to clean it up, as it is a magnet for bears. In fact, I like the smell of grill grease myself.

If you have a bear sighting, make your neighbors aware of it, so that they, too, can take the necessary precautions.

Thanks again to Dave Lewis for the information. Any time you talk to him about nature, you will learn something.

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