Wildlife Watch: Nuisance bear reports spike in June

Published: Jul. 7, 2020 at 2:23 PM EDT
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Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department officials say they've received a record number of calls about black bear sightings in the month of June and they're concerned those interactions will increase now that the state's new composting law is in effect.

Vermont Game Warden Jeremy Schmidt patrols a part of the northwest sector of Vermont. When it comes to bear reports, his phone has been busy. "I do have a high concentration of bears in my district and handle a lot of nuisance bear calls on a daily basis, especially this year," Schmidt said.

Last year Vermont Fish and Wildlife had 353 reports of bears in June statewide. That includes the calls that wardens like Schmidt respond to. This year the department is looking at 496 reports for the same time period. And that's without the warden reports, so they are expecting well over 500 sightings -- a more than 40% increase.

"I think it's the combination of the late spring on top of the drought --which there is no food source for them in the woods right now. And on top of everyone working from home right now, we are getting an uptick in sightings, just seeing the wildlife that's around the house when they are not typically home," Schmidt said.

While sightings have gone up, biologists say the overall population has not grown, and there are fewer bears now then there were 10 years ago. But there is a concern that the increased sightings are happening at the same time as the states new composting law has gone into effect.

"This is a year where we are seeing more bear complaints then we have ever had before for the month of June, and it's early in the bear season, so we are concerned about having one more thing with a lot of people starting to compost who have never done it before and maybe not sure how to do it correctly," said Forrest Hammond, the department's bear project leader. "I think over the last two to three years people knew this was coming so we saw an uptick in the amount of people composting and the number of reports of people saying bears came into their back yards and got into their compost or tore apart their compost or things like that."

Hammond says if you have bear issues, wait until they are resolved before you start composting. "If there is no food in your back yard, the bear is not going to keep coming. Although if it is a neighborhood problem -- not just one person -- because bear can get bird seed anywhere or in the garbage anywhere in the neighborhood, and it's going to hit the whole neighborhood looking overnight," he said.

If you want to compost, Hammond says think about bear proofing, like putting up an electric fence and using the right brown to green material ratio in the compost bin.

"This is not mandatory composting. There is other things you can do if you are in a town like Richmond, Stowe or Rutland, that's having a lot of issues right now with bears. You can delay doing composting. You can do curbside pickup of the compost material or you can take it to the transfer station yourself," Hammond said.

And that's some what wardens like Schmidt say they have heard from local residents. "I have had members of the public tell me that they refuse to compost in their backyard because of bear sightings on their property," he said. "There are several options they have so it doesn't have to be in their backyard.

Reporter Ike Bendavid: If someone sees a bear on their backyard, porch, what would you like them to do?

Forrest Hammond: We are always concerned about human safety -- that's the first thing we do. We also have concern for the bear, but human safety always comes first. If people are comfortable with it -- from the safety of their doorway, from their deck or doorway -- to make a loud noise and let the bear know it's not welcome. Of course they don't know what you are saying, but like your dog understands your tone of voice, a bear does as well.

Learning to compost, but also co-exist with Vermont wildlife.