Don’t give bears a reason to visit

Ah, spring.

The flowers are blooming. The bees are buzzing. The sun is shining. And the bears are out in your backyard, eating all your bird seed.

I can hear you now: “Bears? I don’t have a bear problem! We don’t have any bears in our neighborhood.”

Don’t be so sure.

Bears have recently awoken from their winter slumber, you see. And after not having eaten a single morsel in months, they’re … well … as hungry as bears. That’s where you come in … or where you don’t.

Late last week the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife issued a press release, cautioning all of us to make sure we’re not inadvertently attracting bears to our homes.

And as it turns out, many of us — most of us, perhaps — are not as vigilant as we could be when it comes to bear-proofing our abodes.

Still doubt me? Take this quiz.

Do you always, always, always keep your garbage stashed away in the garage, and only put it out at the curb on the morning it will be picked up?

I didn’t think so.

Do you enjoy filling your bird feeder with bear seed … I mean, bird seed, so that you can watch the bears … I mean birds flock to your neighborhood?

I thought so.

Is your backyard grill clean as a whistle, with absolutely no bear-attracting grease on the grates, or on the propane tank?

I didn’t think so.

As you can see, there are quite a few reasons for bears to visit most of our homes. Grills. Garbage. Bird seed. All are attractants.

Let’s suppose for a moment that you’re a fine and upstanding citizen who is deathly afraid of bears, and have decided to forego feeding birds, and leaving your garbage out where a bear could get at it. Let’s suppose that you’re so concerned about a potential bear invasion that you even scrubbed and sterilized that greasy old gas grill.

Um … you’re still not (as the bears might say) out of the woods.

That was the message I got from Randy Cross on Tuesday, when we sat down for a wide-ranging chat about all things bruin. Cross is a wildlife biologist for the DIF&W who has been working with bears for 30 years. If you’ve got a bear question, he’s your guy.

And Cross pointed out that homeowners often forget to do the most important thing of all.

They forget to work as a team with their neighbors.

It doesn’t matter what you do, Cross pointed out, if everyone else in your neighborhood does nothing.

If nice little Granny Brown next door loves her bird feeders and refuses to let those poor little birds fend for themselves, she’s not the only one with a problem. If good ol’ Parson Jones down the street keeps his garbage pails outside, it really doesn’t matter what you’re doing … or what you’re not doing.

Communicating with neighbors, especially in a rural or wooded area where bears are known to live, is essential, Cross said. Making sure that each neighbor is taking proper precautions will reduce the likelihood of unwanted interactions with bears.

When camping, the DIF&W says more steps should be taken: Put food, candy, toothpaste, soap and suntan lotion in sealed containers, and if possible, store them in your vehicle. Never take food or candy into your tent or sleeping quarters. If your vehicle isn’t nearby, suspend those odorous items in a “bear bag” that’s at least 12 feet above the ground. Wash dishes immediately after meals.

If all else fails, however, the DIF&W has some advice for you.

“If a bear shows up in your backyard, stay calm,” the DIF&W advised in its press release. “Shout at it like you would to chase an unwanted dog.”


John Holyoke

About John Holyoke

John Holyoke has been enjoying himself in Maine's great outdoors since he was a kid. Today, he's the Outdoors editor for the BDN, a job that allows him to meet up with Maine outdoors enthusiasts in their natural habitat. The stories he gathers provide fodder for his columns, and this blog.