As Rhode Island’s itinerant bear or bears continue to roam throughout the state, the Department of Environmental Management (DEM) today is reminding Rhode Islanders that the best way to prevent an interaction – and to discourage black bears from becoming nuisance animals – is to remove potential food sources such as bird feeders from their properties.
“There is no reason for a bear to be close to houses unless there is something to eat there,” said DEM Wildlife Biologist Charlie Brown. “Almost every call we get is related to bears taking down bird feeders. Be sure to remove your bird feeders and other potential food sources from your yards.”
Over the past 10 days, DEM has received reports of sightings or seen photographs posted by residents confirming the presence of a bear or bears in Coventry, North Kingstown, and, most demonstrably, Narragansett, where a bear sauntered up to the car of an animal control officer and peered into the passenger side window yesterday. Although it is likely that the bear making headlines is, in fact, just one bear, DEM cannot confirm this. DEM’s Environmental Police Officers and wildlife biologists are working closely with local police and animal control officers to keep track of bear sightings and complaints.
The behavior exhibited by the bear yesterday in Narragansett “is that of a habituated bear, one that has likely not had any negative stimulus from close interaction from humans,” Brown said. In search of food Monday night, the bear took down bird feeders and put its paws on the deck door of a home in Narragansett.
Increasing bear populations in Connecticut and Massachusetts have led to more frequent sightings in Rhode Island – especially in rural areas of Providence, Kent, and Washington counties. As black bear populations continue to increase in neighboring states it is likely that the presence of bears in Rhode Island will become a more frequent occurrence.
Black bears are generally shy and secretive, and usually fearful of humans; however, if they become dependent on backyard food sources they can lose their fear and become a nuisance. Intelligent and adaptable, they learn quickly and adjust to the presence of humans. They have a keen sense of smell and will investigate food odors; black bears may visit bird feeders, beehives, chicken coops, rabbit hutches, and compost piles in search of food. They are opportunists, and it is this feeding behavior that attracts them to residential areas. Once a bear finds an accessible food source, it may routinely return to the same site or similar sites to feed.
It is important to reduce the attractions that can make a bear a nuisance. Without the food attractions, and left alone, a curious bear will usually wander back into more secluded areas. DEM reminds the public to become “bear aware” by:
o Removing bird feeders by early April and waiting until early November to put them up back up. o Refraining from feeding pets outside, or if you do, taking pet food dishes inside at night. Storing birdseed, livestock feed, and garbage in buildings. o Taking garbage out for pickup on the morning of collection – not the night before. o Keeping barbecue grills clean of grease. Do not put meat or sweet food scraps in your compost pile. o Using electric fencing around chicken coops, beehives, rabbit hutches, and livestock pens. o Moving livestock into barns at night. o Above all, DO NOT FEED BEARS. These are wild animals. An adult male typically weighs between 150 and 450 pounds, while females generally weigh between 100 and 250 pounds. If a black bear is spotted on private property, people are advised to:
o Report the sighting to DEM’s Division of Law Enforcement at 222-3070. DEM is working closely with local police to track bear sightings and complaints and educate people on how to safely coexist with bears. o Do not panic. Bears are rarely aggressive toward people and will often leave on their own. After the bear leaves the area, food sources or any other item of attraction should be removed from the yard. o Do not run away if you surprise a bear. Walk away slowly while facing the bear. In Rhode Island, black bears are protected animals. Intentionally feeding or shooting a bear is illegal. The following steps will minimize the potential for bears attacking livestock or apiaries:
o Use electric fencing around pens or paddocks to protect sheep and goats and other small livestock. o Move small livestock into barns at night. o Secure grains and sweet feeds in buildings. o Use electric fencing to protect apiaries and chicken coops.