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Wildlife Watch: Officials urge Vermonters to be bear aware

Published: Mar. 16, 2021 at 1:46 PM EDT
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SOUTH ROYALTON, Vt. (WCAX) - The start of warmer weather means bears are making their way out of their dens. It also increases the concern over bear interactions with humans, something that has been on the rise in recent years.

Forrest Hammond, Vermont Fish & Wildlife’s bear project leader, says it’s been a quiet winter since the bears went into hibernation, but that’s about to end.

“This week of warmer weather is pretty much going to be the end of that reprieve. We will start getting calls even now. With some of the male bears getting restless with this warmer weather, we have got a couple things going on. One, the bears don’t truly hibernate, they just cycle in and out of a deep sleep. And with the warm weather, water probably trickling into those dens. I’ll bet ya almost anything that we got thousands of bears up there in the hills right now that are restless and trying to think where are they going to go to get that first spring meal. And unfortunately, last year a lot of bears developed bad habits of finding those meals in our backyards. I really think we are going to be hearing from those bears pretty soon and so it’s a good time for people to start thinking, what can I do if a bear shows up in my backyard or gets into my garbage or gets into my bird feeder,” he said.

Hammond says in the past, April 1 was the day to take down your bird feeders, but the theory has now changed to when the snow melts. “That’s the time to take down your feeder and clean up and secure your garbage better,” he said.

Reporter Ike Bendavid: You talked about more sightings last year. Do you point to more bears or people just being home and seeing more?

Forrest Hammond: It’s not a case of more bears, it’s a case of bear behavior and human behavior were different last year. Bear behavior was different because it was such a poor food year for them. The natural food just didn’t produce well. If you were a berry picker or went out and got wild apples, you would probably have a tough time of finding them too. The bears certainly did, so they were pretty desperate last year for food. Although there were more people home, there were more people hoarding food, more food spoiling, more people attempting to compost in their back yard. We had a lot of things going on, including more people from down country taking up residence because of COVID-19 in Vermont, and they were inexperienced about living around bears.

More sightings in the woods too. The state says there was a record 925 bears harvested this past hunting season. “If that number continued year after year with the number of bears that we got now, it wouldn’t be sustainable. This would change our hunting season structure and that’s what we would do if we had another year like that. It would probably have to be enforced to shorten the hunting season or something like that, but we got lots of bears out there. The population is not in trouble,” Hammond said.

A better year for food is expected, but Hammond says human and bear interactions will continue, and so Vermonters should take ownership when there’s a bear sighting. “The department is not going to come and get your bear and truck it away somewhere as soon as it starts being a problem,” Hammond said. “If there is anything good to look back on -- bears and last year -- it’s the fact that we started seeing more individuals, more communities, more groups start taking ownership of the bear issue that they were experiencing,” he said.

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