Bears seen locally; don’t attract them to your garden

black bear courtesy Bugwood
Taking down your bird feeders is one way to eliminate a food source that attracts black bears. (This is a stock photo, not a picture of the black bear spotted locally.) Photo courtesy Steve Pfiffer, Coldwell Banker, Bugwood.org

Earlier this month, a black bear was spotted in Cheektowaga, and before that, in Lancaster.

“We have recently begun to see a rise in reported sightings of black bears in suburban and urban areas,” said Basil Seggos, commissioner of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC). 

There are steps gardeners can take to help make sure they’re not inviting bears into their gardens.

Background on bears

In June, black bear movement increases as the breeding season begins and yearlings (one-year-old bears) disperse to find their own space, according to the DEC. Inevitably some of these bears, particularly yearlings, wander through places these animals would not normally inhabit, like suburban or urban neighborhoods.

Bears have an acute sense of smell and may attempt to consume anything they perceive as edible, including improperly stored garbage, birdseed, livestock, pet food and grease traps on barbecue grills. Once a bear has discovered a food source, it may return or seek similar foods at neighboring properties, learning bad behavior that can damage human property and may lead to the death of the bear.

Bears that frequent developed areas are more likely to be hit by vehicles, illegally killed by people who perceive them as a threat or euthanized for dangerous behavior.

What you can do to keep bears away

Take steps so that you’re not attracting bears to your property. These steps are similar to actions you might take with other pests, such as rats.

Here are recommendations from the DEC:

  • Take down bird feeders.
  • Store pet and livestock feed securely indoors.
  • Keep grills inside a solid, secure structure such as a house, shed or garage.
  • If grills cannot be secured, clean grills, move them away from houses, and remove grease traps after each use.
  • Store garbage containers securely indoors.
  • Put garbage on the curb the morning of collection, not the night before
  • Use bear-resistant trash containers.
  • Ask your neighbors to do these things, too.

Another step you can take is closing garage doors and ground-floor windows and doors at night. It will help discourage bears trying to get at sources of food.

Of course, don’t feed bears. Not only is that dangerous, feeding bears intentionally is illegal and you can get a ticket.

Bears that obtain food from humans will continue to seek food from humans and become nuisance bears, which can pose a threat to humans.

A bear passing through a developed area in search of suitable natural habitat may investigate human food sources, but if it cannot obtain anything to eat, it will continue on its way.

What to do if you spot a bear

If a bear is seen in an unexpected location, residents should simply be aware of the bear’s presence and observe the bear without attempting to interact with it, according to the DEC.

If left alone and given the opportunity, nearly all bears that wander into urban and suburban areas will leave as quickly and quietly as they appear, without serious conflict or need for physical removal.

If you encounter a bear:

  • Don’t panic. Most bears are as afraid of people as people are of bears.
  • Never approach, surround or corner a bear.
  • Back away slowly; do not run.
  • If you are feeling threatened by a bear, raise your arms over your head to look bigger and yell loudly at the bear while slowly backing away.

When to report a nuisance bear:

  • When a nuisance bear presents an immediate danger to public safety, call 911.
  • If a bear is damaging property or is reluctant to leave the area, but the situation is not an emergency, call the regional wildlife office during business hours, or call the DEC Law Enforcement Dispatch Center at 1-844-DEC-ECOs (1-844-332-3267).
  • If bear cubs are known to be orphaned in the spring or summer (before July), call DEC. After that time, cubs generally survive on their own.

For more information, visit DEC webpages on black bears and reducing bear-human conflicts.

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