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RI Department of Environmental Management
AS PUBLIC SIGHTINGS INCREASE, DEM OFFERS TIPS ON CO-EXISTING WITH BLACK BEARS
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 has received 10 or 12 calls a year for the past few years about bear sightings in northern Rhode Island. This year, the department has received credible reports of sightings in Burrillville, Foster, and Hopkinton within a one-week period.
"With black bears making a dramatic comeback in the Northeast, it is fair to say that over time we will find ourselves co-existing with an increasing number of them," said Malcolm Grant, Associate Director of DEM's Bureau of Natural Resources. "And, as more Rhode Islanders make their homes in wooded areas, they may find themselves sharing their space with bears as well as with more typical Rhode Island wildlife."
The increase is not limited to Rhode Island. Bear sightings in Connecticut increased dramatically in 1999, with over 200 recorded, compared to an average of about 90 per year over the previous three years. Bear sightings in New Jersey have increased five-fold since 1995, to more than 1600 last year. In New Hampshire, bears are now found throughout the state, increasingly sharing land areas with people.
While black bears are generally shy and secretive, and usually fearful of humans, 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.
Indeed, the bear sighted in Burrillville last week may have been investigating a grill on a breezeway. In Hopkinton, a bird feeder pole was found bent over with its feeder gone, an indication of a visit by a foraging bear.
Since relocation of black bears is not an option - they will continue their nuisance behavior elsewhere - it is important to reduce the attractions that can make them 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. It is the policy of DEM to leave bears alone, unless they are posing a threat. In Rhode Island, black bears are protected animals and hunting them is illegal. They can be shot only when they present a direct threat to humans or domestic animals.
In Rhode Island, as elsewhere, the tips on co-existing with bears are the same:
Agricultural tips to discourage bears include:
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.
Female black bears weigh between 110 and 150 pounds, while 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.