Minimize mammalian meetings: become bear aware

by Town Reminder


SOUTH HADLEY – A black bear wanders through the North Main Street yard of William Niedzwiecki and Deborah Decker. The bear wandered through the neighborhood and then into Loomis Village on May 24. “The bear walked right across our patio, then headed off when he/she heard us talking. This is our first bear sighting in 40 years!” said Deborah Decker.

By Kristin Will

SOUTH HADLEY – Among the different ways to which the town of South Hadley is often referred, “bear country” is not usually one.
But according to Marion Larson, chief information and education officer of the Mass. Division of Fisheries & Wildlife, residents should consider South Hadley as such.
“I can’t quite emphasize enough – out in your area, bears are common,” she said.
And with the wildlife encounters two residents recently had in June, Larson offered tips and suggestions for preventing any more mammalian meetings.
Referring to the Hadley Street resident who last Saturday inadvertently walked between a mother bear and her cubs while dumping lawn clippings in his backyard, Larson said the resident “did all the right things in terms of making noise, waving arms and backing away slowly.”
The mother bear’s aggressive behavior toward the resident – swiping at him and knocking him to the ground – is likely due to the presence of her offspring nearby.
Generally, bears are afraid of humans.
               Make Noise, Make Them Afraid
Should a resident see or encounter a bear in their backyard or while hiking a trail, Larson said to make as much noise as possible.
“If you didn’t want a dog on your property, what would you do?” she asked. “It’s the same with wildlife. Be unpredictable. Make noise.”
She said the same tactics to scare off a bear can be employed to other wildlife, such as coyotes.
On June 7, a Pearl Street resident encountered a coyote attacking his dog in his backyard. He attempted to physically separate the two, and was bitten in the process.
According to the Division of Fisheries and Wildlife’s “Living With Wildlife” publication, a bear may not immediately recognize a resident as a human until it scents him or her. The first response for bears that encounter something unusual is often to flee.
If the bear is at the far end of a yard, run in its direction, yell, clap or make loud sounds.
“Speak. Talk. Then they realize you’re a person,” said Larson. “And bears for the most part are wary of people. And we want them to stay that way.”
If a resident should find him or herself in a situation similar to the Hadley Street homeowner who walked between a mother bear and her cubs, Larson said to back away slowly.
“Never run,” she said.
Another suggestion Larson provided was to check backyards first before letting out a dog. She also said to stay outside with the domesticated animal.
“Certainly it could trigger a bear to become aggressive and do those bluff charges,” she said of dogs. “It’s a very good reason for keeping your dog under control” and leashed.
                  Find the Food Source and Scrap It
A bear usually enters a residential yard because it’s hungry and it smells food.
If a bear does make a neighborhood stop in a backyard, “when it leaves, check around,” said Larson.
Ask the question, “Have I really gotten rid of all the food sources?”
Take down bird feeders for the summer season. Enclose compost piles and areas.
Clean grills and their grease traps.
Bring trash to the curb the morning of collection, not the night before. And make sure the barrels are secure.
Do not leave pet food outside.
“We don’t need bears to be thinking that people are sources of food,” said Larson. “Bears are not going to change their behavior. We have to change ours.”
Not only will removing sources of food prevent bear visits, but it also will hinder skunks, coyote and foxes – among other unwanted wildlife – from stopping by.
“Food is a major motivator for these animals,” said Larson. “What’s important is actually trying to prevent encounters, and a lot of reasons why bears are around houses has to do with food.”
“We have to clean up our habits for wildlife and us,” said Larson.