Spike in calls reporting bear sightings in some Vermont communities

Published: Aug. 22, 2023 at 4:16 PM EDT
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SOUTH BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - Vermonters are seeing more and more black bears according to Vt. Fish and Wildlife. That’s raised concerns in communities that aren’t used to watching out for bears, like South Burlington and surrounding areas.

Bear activity in Vermont’s urban communities has jumped this year, causing some residents to take extra precautions.

“We’ve had encounters with other critters like bobcats, deer and turkey, but never a bear until this year. Honestly, it’s our fault to some degree,” Amanda Everse said.

Everse lives in South Burlington and recently she’s been having some problems with bears. She says they’ve come into her yard several times, denting her recycling bins and taking apart her compost bin. She’s now moved the compost and taken down a few bird feeders. She hasn’t seen any bears since recently, but the issue still concerns her.

“They haven’t continued to cause any damage to anything, so I am not worried about them. I don’t think they are going to hurt us, I just worry that they are getting a little to familiar with people,” Everse said.

That’s what Vermont Fish and Wildlife is worried about, too. Experts say the bear population has maintained a steady 4,000 to 6,000 bears in the state over the last 10 years. This year, Fish and Wildlife has also received more calls from places where bears typically aren’t seen. Some towns and cities have seen a huge uptick, like Shelburne, Williston and South Burlington. And because more homes are being built near Vermont’s forests, the bears are being drawn out.

“There’s so much opportunity to find food from garbage, and bird feeders, compost, backyard chickens. They’re finding enough food to survive and are choosing to stay there. Typically in an adult bear, if you take it out of a place where it wants to be, it’s going to try really hard to go back to that place,” said Jaclyn Comeau, a wildlife biologist.

The availability of food is also a contributing factor. Data shows in years where fruit production is higher, there are more human-bear interactions.

Fish and Wildlife says there’s not much they can do to prevent bears from foraging in populated areas. But Everse says she hopes more people stay bear aware because she doesn’t want to make a call to Fish and Wildlife.

“If they get too friendly, then they are going to have to get moved by wildlife management. I think is what’s going to end up happening in South Burlington,” Everse said. “There’s people freaked out.”

Wildlife biologists say as the days get colder, the bears should head deeper into the forest to hibernate. For now, people should take down their bird feeders, secure garbage until collection day and protect backyard animals with electric fencing.