BELLOWS FALLS — State wildlife officials said on Friday that unless Bellows Falls residents take down their birdfeeders and secure their garbage, the bear that has been appearing in village neighborhoods for the past week will likely have to be killed.
David Taddei, a Vermont Fish & Wildlife game warden, said the bear was seen Friday morning in the vicinity of Atkinson and Pine streets, running through a back yard. He said the bear, which he described as a 125-pound male bear, had so far caused no damage nor posed a threat, but he said that could rapidly change if the bear starts finding food at homes.
The Fish and Wildlife Department’s website warns “a fed bear is a dead bear.”
Taddei said that in recent years he has had to kill two nuisance bears — one in Windham and another in Townshend, something he hated doing.
Taddei said he hasn’t seen the bear this spring; on Friday he was returning to work after a few days off. And he said he never saw the bear that bothered some neighborhoods last spring and parts of the summer.
Bears have nothing to eat at the moment until skunk cabbage comes out. “They really like skunk cabbage,” he said. And until berry crops start in the summer, bears have to subsist on last year’s acorns, he said.
If people see the bear, they should keep their distance; and if the bear trees itself, people should not gather around to watch it. The bear needs space and privacy to come down out of the tree and head back to the woods, he explained.
Hammond, the state’s leading bear expert and chief bear biologist, said the most effective thing is for people to take down their birdfeeders and clean up spilled seed, as well as securing their garbage. Bears can smell bird seed and suet more than a mile away, he said.
“They live by their noses,” he said, adding that bears’ noses are 10 times more powerful than a bloodhound.
While Vermont has emphasized recycling and composting of food scraps, Hammond said those who are composting need to know how to keep their compost piles from being “stinky,” and attracting bears. Or, he said, surround them with electric fencing, as beekeepers and backyard chicken farmers do.
For the early spring weeks when bears are hungry and looking for food, another option is to take food waste to the local recycling center, Hammond said.
Hammond and Taddei both said they believe this is the same bear that had been in the village last year.
Bellows Falls Police Chief David Bemis said a bear has been seen in the village area for the past three years; he wasn’t sure if this was the same animal, but he suspected it was. He said no one has been hurt by the bear, but he urged people to take down their birdfeeders, keep track of their pets and secure their garbage — as well as steering clear of the bear.
Taddei and Hammond both said trapping and relocating the bear isn’t really an option because the bear would just seek out another urban or suburban area since it has learned the option of human food. “The bear would just become someone else’s headache,” Taddei said.
But, both men said, they thought that if they had to, they might use what is called a “hard release,” in which the bear is trapped, and then released in the same area but with a lot of noise, flashing lights and maybe even paint balls, in an effort to scare it. However, Hammond said a hard release doesn’t always work.
The state has had a website since 2012 for people to report bear interactions, whether they are bears taking down birdfeeders, or more aggressive behavior. Hammond said he evaluates every bear report for the potential for dangerous behavior and the potential for damage. People can also call their game warden, or even local police.
In addition to multiple calls from Bellows Falls residents reporting the male bear, Hammond said a bear has been visiting a mobile home park in Hartford. Trailer parks are attractive to bears because most people don’t have a good place to secure their trash, he said.
He said that over time, if a bear is successful getting food from humans, the animal eventually will break into homes, and while bears are scared of humans, the interactions don’t go well, with the bear clawing their way out.
Hammond said Vermont’s bear population is estimated to be between 3,500 to 5,500 bears. He said last year’s bear hunting season was very successful. “A lot of people were out in the woods,” he said, attributing the interest in part to the coronavirus pandemic and people seeking a safe outdoors activity.
To report a nuisance bear sighting: https://anrweb.vt.gov/FWD/FW/WildlifeBearReport