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Vt. Officials: High number of hungry bear encounters - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Vt. Officials: High number of hungry bear encounters

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GROTON, Vt. -

It's the peak of camping season at state parks across the state. It also happens to be a hungry time for bears that frequent the same forests. For some, the bears are a little too close for comfort in Groton.

Linda Fordham woke up early Sunday to an unexpected visitor nearly inside her campground lean-to.

"I saw this big black mass and I thought, it took a quick second to realize, oh my God, oh my God this is a bear, and he's in here," said Fordham.

The family was staying at Groton State Park's Stillwater campground for a long weekend of rest and relaxation. It's a close encounter that she says she'll never forget.

"At that moment I thought if I had just put my arm out, I would have patted him on his way out through, so I got out by the edge of the tarp and I yelled at him again and he booked it down across the path, and that was the last I saw of him," said Fordham.

Officials at Groton say the campground has had an unusually high number of bear encounters peaking this past weekend. Tuesday night they were at it again.

"The bear was able to bend that top hinge and reach the paw down in there and pull the trash out like that," said Kyle Rowe, Groton State Park.

It's not clear how many bears are involved. It's gotten so bad that wildlife officials have resorted to calling in the hounds - dogs trained to track bears and give them a scare.

"Hopefully if the dogs hit on something there will be a few subsequent opportunities which will hopefully get the bears a little more concerned about trying to come into this environment," said Rowe.

Campground visitors are warned with pamphlets and ranger talks, but that only goes so far. The temptations remain, like a camper's banana bread and used diapers are also a favorite.

"This time of year is a difficult food time for bears, just before the berries ripen and the bears are searching pretty hard for foods right now," said Forrest Hammond, Vermont Fish & Wildlife.

Bear populations have been on the rise. This year officials have fielded about 120 complaints, nearly double from recent years. While black bears can be aggressive, especially sows guarding cubs, those kind of encounters in Vermont are extremely rare.

"Once they start getting fed there's a progression of behavior that gets worse on and on, with more loss of fear of people, to the point they finally might entering a building or even coming into a tent site like that. Normally a bear wouldn't do that type of thing," said Hammond.

The last resort is destroying an animal. It's something that happens an average 20 times a year.

Despite Sunday's visitor, Fordham ended up staying another night, and says it hasn't turned her off camping.

"Well, I panicked a little bit, they didn't find me up a tree," said Fordham.

And hopes she won't find another unwelcome visitor that close to her campsite again.

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