Black bear are becoming a real nuisance



The owner of a Southern Berkshire camp (wishes to remain anonymous) was being bothered by a large bear this past summer.  It had broken into a camper but couldn’t get into the refrigerator because it was locked with a padlock.  On July 30, around 10 PM it tried to break into a tent and the owner shot it four times with a .357 Magnum pistol. (powerful, large caliber pistol) with no effect and the bear walked off. He called the Environmental Police Officers (EPO).


The next morning the EPOs tracked the wounded animal into the woods and put it down.  DFW personnel estimated the bear’s live weight at 515 lbs with the head alone weighing 35 lbs.  The skull has been prepared and is on display at the DFW Headquarters in Dalton.  It dwarfs the other bear’s skull which is exhibited with it.


This and other incidents have caught the attention of the Mass Fish & Wildlife Board.   In its October 1 Meeting in Dalton, DFW Western District Manager Andrew Madden reported that there were nuisance bear calls in the Western District “virtually every day in July.” Likewise, EPO Major Wilton Gray reported to the Board that nuisance bear calls continue to be a problem and a strain on EPO resources.  They are working with the DFW to come up with a program to educate citizens, local community leaders and public safety personnel on how to respond and co-exist with the expanding bear population.  “They are here to stay”, he said “and we have to figure out the best way to handle them”.


The Board is pondering what tools are available to address the problem.  The best tools are bear hunters.  (This past September, a record 202 bears were harvested and more are expected to be taken during the November bear season.)    The Board is considering options such as allowing bear hunting during the shotgun deer season.  Some feel that most bear are denned up by then and there may be little effect on the populations.  Another option the Board may consider is allowing hunters to harvest more than one bear a season.


Madden pointed out that the vast majority of nuisance bear calls are coming from towns with camps and restaurants with dumpsters or from people who leave their bird feeders out when they are not necessary.  Usually they do not allow hunting on their properties. Although he has received many nuisance calls from Stockbridge; only two bears were harvested there during the recent bear hunting season.  This contrasts with the town of Ashfield, which had little or no nuisance calls but yielded 10 bears during the hunt.  He feels that huntable land makes a difference.


“There is a cost of doing business in the Berkshires”, Madden said, “and one cost is to obtain bear-proof trash containers or find other solutions for managing trash”. “We must remove their “attractants”.


Relocating this many bears is not viable for a couple of reasons.  First, it causes a strain on resources to find, drug and relocate the bears.  DFW and EPO staffs have others things to do during the summer months such as maintaining and patrolling the wildlife management areas, stocking fish, etc.  Secondly, bears can have a range of more than 50 miles and may find their way back to where they were assured of tasty birdfeed and garbage meals.   Madden thought that perhaps young bears can be “reconditioned.” It is easier for young bears to be retrained to stay away from houses and developed areas than older bears.  This is done through removal of the reward accompanied by aversive conditioning.


So why are they becoming such a nuisance now?  F&W Board Chairman George “Gige” Darey (and many sportsmen) believe that the problem stems back to Question 1 in the 1990’s, when voters banned bear hunting with dogs as well as using bait.  This uptick in nuisance bears comes as no surprise to them, and their numbers are likely to spread eastward.


Is this a minor nuisance we can live with?  Tell that to some New Jersey Rutgers University hikers. Recently, five hikers encountered a black bear in the woods that began to follow them.   They became frightened and attempted to flee the area.  During the confusion, the group became separated and as they ran in different directions, one hiker was attacked and killed by the bear.  The bear was subsequently euthanized at the scene. Perhaps this could have been avoided if the group had stuck together and made noises. *****


Instead of traveling to the Arctic to fish, maybe I should have stayed home and followed 9-year old Jayder Raifstanger to the Green River in Alford where he landed the above 22 inch, 3.8 lbs brown trout in September.  Son of Jay and Rebecca Raifstanger of Alford, he caught it on a 4 lb test ultra light fishing outfit. *****


The wild turkey fall hunting season opens tomorrow and runs through November 1 (note the increased number of hunting days this year).    Archery hunting season for deer also opens tomorrow and runs through November 29.  Check the 2014 DFW Guide to Hunting, Fishing and Trapping for governing regulations.

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