Nuisance bear calls increase this time of year
Augusta — Nuisance bear complaints already have begun this spring, and the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife reminds homeowners to remove potential bear attractants from their yard.
“Maine has a large bear population, and this time of year after emerging from their winter dens, hungry bears are out looking for food,” said MDIFW black bear biologist Jen Vashon. “We want to remind people to remove common backyard attractants so they don’t create a potentially dangerous interaction with a black bear.”
Already, the department has received more than 20 nuisance bear complaints. Annually, the department handles approximately 500 nuisance bear complaints. In 2012, the department responded to more than 827 complaints, and last year there were 311 as of December.
Black bears emerge hungry from their dens after losing between 15 to 40 percent of their weight during winter, and they immediately start looking for food. Bears often will turn to suburban attractants such as bird feeders, pet food and unsecured garbage bins when natural foods are not available.
“It is important for people to be proactive so they don’t attract bears to their homes,” said Vashon. “Don’t wait until a bear gets to your birdfeeder or grill. They become accustomed to the location where they find food and they will return.”
Much of a bear’s diet is vegetation, but with the late winter, many natural foods such as buds, leaves and grasses are not yet available. Generally this time of year, bears will feed on grasses and sedges near wetlands, as well as the roots, tubers and bulbs of plants, such as skunk cabbage and others. Bears are also opportunistic carnivores, and they occasionally will feed on moose calves, deer fawns and livestock.
Once the berry crops emerge in early summer, bears will start seeking food in berry patches and conflicts will diminish. However, when berry crops are poor, bears move more in search of food and often find food in backyards — causing more problems between people and bears.
Bears that live near people often rely on foods inadvertently provided by people, such as highly nutritional sunflower seeds for birds. Birdseed and other attractants should be removed to prevent attracting or creating nuisance bears. Because a bear will continue to visit an area where there is easy access to food, everyone needs to work together to make their community less attractive to bears.
In order to keep your home and community less attractive to bears between April 1 and November 1, when bears are most active, do the following:
• Take down bird feeders, rake up and dispose of bird seed on the ground, and store remaining bird seed indoors.
• Although bringing your feeders in at night and raking up and disposing of bird seed on the ground can make your yard less attractive to a bear, a bear may visit your bird feeder during the day. If you are experiencing problems with bears, the only way to discourage the bear from returning is to remove all food attractants.
• Keep garbage cans inside until the morning of trash pickup.
• Keep lids on dumpsters closed at all times and schedule frequent pickups to avoid overflowing garbage. If possible, use dumpsters with metal lids and keep the dumpster in a building or behind a fence.
• Keep your barbecue grill clean by burning off any food residue, disposing of wrappers and cleaning the grilling area after use. If possible, store grills inside when not in use.
• Store pet and livestock food inside, and clean up any uneaten food.
If you do encounter a bear, you should make loud noises, such as banging pots together, to try to scare it off. Always back away from the bear to give it an escape route. Without an escape route, a cornered bear may charge.
By taking these precautions, homeowners are more likely to prevent conflicts that could pose a danger to human life or require corrective action, such as moving or killing a bear.
For more information, visit online at mefishwildlife.com.