Don’t give bears a reason to stop by your house

Over the years, many BDN readers have written or stopped me on the street to tell me their bear stories.

Bears like “Big John,” shown here in 2010 with biologist Randy Cross and BDN Outdoors Editor John Holyoke, have emerged from their dens and are hungry. Don’t give them any reasons to visit your home. Weighing 364 pounds seven springs ago, Big John was sedated during when this photo was taklem, and at last report, still tromping around the Maine woods. (BDN file photo)

Many of those tales involve curious, hungry bears who spend the early spring looking for food wherever they can find it.

The Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife has put out its annual warning on avoiding unwanted visits from hungry bears, and the annual tips bear repeating.

While all of us love seeing bears (if we’re fortunate enough to have seen them), having them too close to our homes isn’t a great idea. Actually inviting them into our backyards? A truly bad idea.

And make no mistake, there are all kinds of ways that we may unintentionally be inviting bears into our yards.

Bears are omnivores. Simply put, that means they’re a lot like me: They never met a food they didn’t like. And unfortunately for the bears, when they roll out of their dens after their long winter naps, there’s not much in the way of natural grub out there for the taking.

Nuts? Nope. Fruits? Nope.

A few years back, I was amazed when DIF&W bear biologist Randy Cross poked a stick into a pile of bear scat, and showed me what one particular spring bear had been gorging himself on.


Figure: If bears think a belly-full of ants would make for a fine feast, how attractive would your grease-splattered gas grill be? Or that nice, hanging buffet of succulent bird seed? Or that plastic can filled with what you call garbage, and what a bear calls “snacks!”

The key, the DIF&W says, is to take steps early so that the bears don’t become attracted to your home. If you wait until after the bear has hauled your grill into the woods, or after he has browsed his way through the bird feeder, you’ve waited too long. They know you had food once … and they’ll be back. (The DIF&W says bears especially love sunflower seeds).

Bears have a great sense of smell, and if you’ve left food out, they’ll likely find it. A few years back a reader told me about a bear that had broken into the family garage and found a freezer full of food.

Still need some guidelines? Here’s what the DIF&W advises in order to make your home less attractive to bears:

— Take down bird feeders and rake up the bird seed on the ground. Store the remainder of your bird seed indoors.

— Keep garbage cans inside until the morning of trash pickup.

— Keep the barbecue grill clean. Burn off food residue. If possible, store your grill inside when you’re not using it.

— Store your pet and livestock food inside, and clean up any uneaten food.

— Keep dumpster lids closed and locked.

— Keep outbuildings and garage doors locked.

If you’ve done all this and you still end up closer to a bear than you’d hoped, the DIF&W advises slowly backing away and leaving the area. If it approaches you, try to intimidate the animal by waving your arms and making loud noises.

Water’s cold, boat safe

At least three times this week, my newsfeed has begun buzzing with word of a boating accident in Maine.

A pair of those incidents involved canoes; in the third, a small motorboat was involved. And sadly, a child died in one of those incidents.

One of the things that we love about Maine is that there’s so much water, and so many ways to enjoy that water. We’ve got lakes and ponds and rivers and streams, as well as the vast Atlantic Ocean.

It’s important to remember, however, that it’s crucial to be cautious on the water.

Know your ability level. Respect the fact that the water is very cold. Realize that despite your best intentions, you may end up in the water. Take steps in advance to prepare for that. Wear your life jacket.

And perhaps most importantly, recognize that the weather — and boating conditions — can change rapidly. One minute, there might not be a puff of wind. The next, a storm might churn over a pond.

Have fun. Be safe. People want to see you come home at the end of your day of boating.

John Holyoke can be reached at or 990-8214. Follow him on Twitter: @JohnHolyoke

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.