This spring, the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife encourages homeowners to take food source and food-odor prevention steps around their properties as ways to deter bears that could become a nuisance or danger.

Bears recently have emerged from their dens and are in search of food that is not readily available to them at this time of year. They are drawn to bird feeders, garbage cans, dumpsters and grills where food or the odor of food is prevalent.

For birds, however, spring and summer offer an abundance of natural food. If bird-lovers want to feed birds, there are ways to do so without attracting nuisance wildlife.

“Each spring, we encourage people to bring in their bird feeders and rake up any seed left on the ground, especially in areas where bears are common or where residents have experienced bear problems,” said IF&W wildlife biologist Jennifer Vashon. “If you live in an area where bears are uncommon and you want to continue to feed birds, we recommend that you bring your feeders in at night and rake up any seed from the ground.”

The best way to keep bears in the wild is not to make it easy for them to make themselves at home in your back yard. “If you are experiencing a problem with a black bear, you should bring in your feeders immediately,” Vashon said.

“It is also important to remember that other food odors attract bears to your back yard,” Vashon said. “Garbage that is brought to the curb the night before pickup or is stored outside is a great temptation to a bear. We encourage everyone to keep their garbage inside until the morning of trash pickup.”

Bears who become reliant on people for food return to the same locations to eat and become less fearful of people.

“The worst-case scenario is that a bear will hurt someone,” said Vashon.

Spring is when the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife and the Maine Warden Service receives hundreds of nuisance animal complaints, and bears near homes and in neighborhoods are among the calls.

To deter bears in areas where bears occur, the department suggests between April 1 and Nov. 1 residents:

• Bring in bird feeders and rake up the seed.

• Store garbage and garbage cans in the garage or basement until trash day, and put out the cans the morning of pickup.

• Not compost meats or other foods with a strong odor.

• For grills, burn off as much of the meat and grease as possible and then brush or scrape grills clean. Grills should be stored in a closed garage or shed.

• Use dumpsters with heavy metal lids that latch shut. Keep the lids and self-closing doors shut. If garbage is overflowing, contact the trash hauler to pick it up.

• For pets that are fed outdoors, only feed them what they will eat, and clean their dishes daily.

• Store all livestock feeds in a secure location.

• Encourage neighbors to take the same steps to deter bears.

• When camping, put food and other items with an odor, including candy, toothpaste, suntan lotion and soap, in sealed containers. If camping near a vehicle, keep the sealed containers in it. Never store food or candy in a tent or sleeping quarters. If food or other odorous items cannot be stored, place them in a “bear bag” that is at least 12 feet above the ground and 10 feet from the nearest tree trunk. After meals, store all leftovers and immediately wash dishes. Dump the dishwater away from the camp or use a sump hole to filter the water, and then burn the food scraps. Carefully burn all leftover food, wrappers and grease. Don’t bury them or throw them in a latrine.

• If a bear shows up in the back yard, stay calm. Shout at it like you would to chase an unwanted dog. Most bears are timid enough to be scared away by yelling, waving or banging pots. Check first before going outside. Black bears blend into night skies, thus providing the chance of an encounter. Use outside lights to full advantage and look outside from a safe position, such as a porch or window.

• Never approach a bear.

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