DEM Offers Tips on Co-Existing With Black Bears as Public Sightings Increase
PROVIDENCE – The increased publicity about black bear sightings in Rhode Island has prompted the Department of Environmental Management to issue some tips on how to live with bears and discourage them from becoming nuisance animals.
DEM is now receiving several calls a day from people who have sighted bears; some of the bears have been in yards or porches of residents’ homes. Many, if not all of these calls have been prompted by a single animal. Over the past week, the Department has received credible reports of sightings in Narragansett, North Kingstown, South Kingstown, Coventry, West Greenwich and Burrillville. As black bear populations continue to increase in neighboring states it is likely that the presence of bears in Rhode Island will become a routine occurrence.
The Department’s environmental police officers and wildlife biologists are working closely with local police to keep track of bear sightings and complaints, and are educating people in the area of sightings to co-exist with bears.
Black bears are generally shy and secretive, and usually fearful of humans; however, if they become dependent on backyard food sources they can lose their fear and become a nuisance. Intelligent and adaptable, they learn quickly and adjust to the presence of humans. They have a keen sense of smell, and will investigate food odors. They are opportunists, and it is this feeding behavior that attracts them to residential areas. The attractions include garbage, birdseed and suet, fruit, compost piles, outdoor pet dishes, and grease on barbecue grills. Once a bear finds an accessible food source, it may routinely return to the same site or similar sites to feed.
The bear spotted in Narragansett, South Kingstown and North Kingstown this week was seen investigating trash cans and bird feeders, and bird feeder pole was found bent over with its feeder gone, an indication of a visit by a foraging bear.
It is important to reduce the attractions that can make a bear a nuisance. Without the food attractions, and left alone, a curious bear will usually wander back into more secluded areas. If you see a bear on your property, you can either leave it alone and wait for it to leave, or make loud noises from a safe distance, and wave your arms, to scare it away. If you surprise a bear at close range, walk away slowly while facing the bear, but avoid eye contact which it might perceive as a threat. In Rhode Island, black bears are protected animals and hunting them is illegal.
In Rhode Island, as elsewhere, the tips on co-existing with bears are the same:
- Take down bird feeders from April to November. Natural food sources for birds are plentiful at this time of year.
- Do not feed pets outside, or, if you do, take pet food dishes inside at night.
- Store garbage in sheds and garages, away from doors. Double bagging and the use of ammonia will reduce odors that attract bears.
- Garbage for pickup should be put outside the morning of collection, not the night before.
- Keep barbecue grills clean of grease.
- Do not put meat or sweet food scraps in your compost pile.
Agricultural tips to discourage bears include:
- Use electric fencing around livestock or move livestock into barns at night.
- Use electric fencing around beehives or wire them together with metal strapping.
- Leave unplanted open lanes between forest and fields.
- Alternate row crops to provide less cover.
Black bears are generally solitary creatures. In the East, they are found from New England south through the Appalachians to northern Georgia. Black bear habitat is forestland, generally with both deciduous and coniferous trees, along with streams, swamps and rock ledges. Bears are typically nocturnal, but may be active during the day. They have poor eyesight, fair hearing, and a keen sense of smell. They are omnivorous and eat grasses, leaves, fruit, nuts and berries. Occasionally they will prey on small mammals, rarely deer and livestock. They will also eat insects, particularly ants and bees, and scavenge carrion.
Adult female black bears weigh between 110 and 150 pounds, while adult males typically weigh between 200 and 250 pounds. Adults are five to six feet long. Good tree climbers and swimmers, they can also run up to 35 miles per hour. Females will defend their cubs, so it is important to keep away from them and never get between a female and her cubs. Females with cubs generally range between six to 19 square miles, while males range between 12 and 60 square miles. During breeding season, usually late June and early July, males travel extensively in search of females. A single wandering bear can be responsible for numerous sightings.
DEM’s Division of Law Enforcement has produced a brochure with helpful tips on how to live with bears and discourage them from becoming nuisance animals. The brochure is available online on DEM’s website, www.dem.ri.gov, by clicking on “Topics” from the homepage, then “Wildlife”, then “Bears”.