Darren Kramer on Genesee Lane woke up Tuesday morning to find Bear B-1 chowing down on some bird feeders in his yard.
She clearly has been making the rounds in North Madison. In late July, not too far from two schools. Shannon Brady saw her in North Madison on August 6, 2012. Jim Rode saw her on August 8, 2012 near the intersection of County Road and Route 79 in North Madison. And she's been sighted several times in the past few weeks in the Genesee Lane area, which is off of Race Hill Road north of Old Toll Road in North Madison, Kramer says.
Paul Rego, a wildlife biologist with the State Department of Energy & Environmental Protection (DEEP), said that Bear B-1 has traveled all over the southern part of Connecticut over the past few years and that it appears as though she is a girl bear.
Bear B-1 probably a girl, and probably still a yearling
"We're pretty sure she is a female," he said. "She was originally tagged in 2010, so we think she is about 1 1/2 years old at this point." That means she still technically is considered a "yearling" and likely is not breeding at this point. Bear B-1 iseems to have an unusually large range for a female yearling, Rego said, But other than that, her food-seeking behavior seems pretty typical of a growing bear her age, he said.
Rego said Bear B-1 is one of many bears that have been sighted this year in Connecticut and that there have been many sightings of bears. The DEEP estimates the state's bear population at approximately 500 bears. In 2011, the DEEP received nearly 3,000 bear sighting reports from 122 of Connecticut’s 169 towns, including many towns along the shoreline, where Bear B-1 seems to be settling in.
"Over the past two or three decades, the bear population has been growing," he said. "It seems like each year there are more sightings." Rego said the regrowth of forested areas around the state are providing a hospitable habitat for bears.
Bears usually easy to shoo off
Rego said bears are only considered a problem if they start to threaten and attack pets or livestock, or if they break into a home. He said that is very uncommon and that most bears do no more than startle homeowners, and are usually pretty easy to shoo off.
"Our main concern is that we don't want bears to become habituated to humans, and lose their fear of people," he said. "Bears can become increasingly bold if they find food near homes."
On August 8, it appeared Bear B-1 was looking for food, Rode said. "She was eating the garbage and then roaming around the yard. Looked like she might have crossed Rte 79 heading east but she probably headed back into water company property," he said. "Guess we'll keep the cans in for a while."
Tuesday morning, Kramer said he watched and photographed the bear for about ten minutes, along with his family, from a safe distance. They he fired up his iPhone and show his parents in Wisconsin the bear live via FaceTime.
Bear B-1, once again, is reluctant to wander off
He then tried to shoo it away, making a variety of noises. None were particularly successful in getting Bear B-1's attention.
"After trying a number of noises to get a reaction, I blew out a loud puff of air, and that really got the bear's attention. It sat up on its back paws, shot me the stink eye for a second, and took off into the woods," he said. "I warned the neighbors with dogs and small kids to keep their eyes open."
Kramer said he was startled by the bear's reaction to the sound. "It changed [her] whole mood in a second," he said. He said he then learned bears sometimes make snorting or puffing noises when they are angry.
Just leave them alone and they will probably wander off
The Florida Fish & Wildlife Commission said in this article on its website that huffing and puffing, and snorting noises, are sometimes typical of bears that are trying to scare something or someone off. Kramer says the puffing noise did get Bear B-1's attention quickly.
"DEEP tells folks to just leave them alone, and that is probably the best idea," Kramer said. "I really think they are pretty harmless, (except for garbage cans and bird feeders)."
Rego and other wildlife experts say that is exactly correct, that removing bird feeders and securing garbage cans will go a long way towards discouraging Bear B-1 and other bears from hanging around.
Here is some information from the state Department of Energy & Environmental Protection on how to prevent bear visits and what to do if a bear visits your yard:
The Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) reminds residents to take steps to reduce contact and conflicts with black bears. These steps become increasingly important as bears emerge from winter hibernation looking for food and because the state’s bear population is growing. This growing and expanding population is estimated at approximately 500 bears, increasing the need for people to know how to prevent problems. In 2011, the DEEP received nearly 3,000 bear sighting reports from 122 of Connecticut’s 169 towns. This spring, the department has already received several reports of bears traveling through populated areas and coming into contact with humans and domestic animals. When bears emerge from their winter dens, natural foods are scarce and, as a result, bears are often attracted to human-provided foods found near homes.
“As Connecticut’s bear population continues to grow, residents of our state should familiarize themselves with steps they can take to avoid contact with this species,” said Susan Frechette, DEEP Deputy Commissioner. “Most conflicts occur when bears are attracted close to homes by food sources that are easy for them to access, such as bird seed, garbage, and residue on grills. This can lead to more serious problems, including habituated bears that have lost their fear of humans.”
The two most common bear attractants are bird seed and poorly-stored household garbage. Birdfeeders should be taken down and put away during spring, summer, and fall. Household garbage should be stored in closed garages or sheds. In cases where this can’t be done, adding ammonia to cans and bags can discourage pilfering by bears and other animals. Other items that can attract bears include pet and livestock foods, grease and drippings on barbecue grills, sweet or fatty food scraps in compost piles, and fruit-bearing trees.
Keep animals as distant from forested areas as possible
Although uncommon, bears may attack and kill livestock, such as sheep, goats, pigs, and fowl. They also can destroy unprotected beehives. One of the best precautions for these problems is well-maintained electric fencing. Other recommendations for livestock growers include moving animals into sheds or barns at night, keeping feed contained, keeping animals as distant from forested areas as possible, and using guard dogs.
The DEEP encourages residents to take the following simple steps to avoid problems with black bears:
1. NEVER feed bears.
2. Take down, clean, and put away birdfeeders by late March. Store the feeders until late fall. Clean up spilled seed from the ground.
3. Store garbage in secure, airtight containers inside a garage or storage area. Double bagging and adding ammonia to cans and bags will reduce odors that attract bears. Periodically clean garbage cans with ammonia to reduce residual odor. Garbage for pickup should be put outside the morning of collection and not the night before.
4. Avoid leaving pet food outdoors at night.
5. Keep barbecue grills clean. Store grills inside a garage or shed.
6. Avoid placing meat scraps or sweet foods in compost piles.
7. Protect beehives, livestock, and berry bushes from bears with electric fencing.
8. Supervise dogs at all times when outside. Keep dogs on a leash when walking and hiking. A roaming dog might be perceived as a threat to a bear or its cubs.
If you encounter a bear while hiking, make your presence known by yelling or making other loud noises. Usually, a bear will move from an area once it detects humans. If a bear does not retreat, slowly leave the area and find an alternate hiking route. While camping, be aware that most human foods are also attractive to bears. Keep a clean campsite, and make sure food and garbage are secured (for example, keep food in a cooler stored in the trunk of a car and never keep food within your tent).
Prevention and tolerance are necessary for coexisting with bears in Connecticut. It is important to remember that although black bears regularly travel near houses, they are rarely aggressive toward humans and can usually be frightened away by making loud noises, throwing sticks, or spraying with a garden hose. However, it is not uncommon for bears that have found food, such as bird seed, to become habituated and to ignore efforts to scare them away. In the rare instance when a bear appears to be aggressive toward people, residents should contact the DEEP Wildlife Division’s Sessions Woods office at 860-675-8130 (Mon.-Fri. from 8:30 AM-4:30 PM) or the DEEP’s 24-hour dispatch line (860-424-3333) during weekends and non-business hours.
Bear sightings reported by the public provide valuable information to assist the DEEP Wildlife Division in monitoring the black bear population. Anyone who observes a black bear in Connecticut is encouraged to report the sighting on the DEEP’s Web site www.ct.gov/deep/wildlife or call the Wildlife Division’s Sessions Woods office. Some bears have been ear-tagged for research. Information on the presence or absence of tags, including tag color, letters, and numbering, is particularly valuable. To obtain informational fact sheets about bears, visit the DEEP’s Web site or call the Sessions Woods office.
Editor's Note: The tag date for Bear B-1 was incorrect in the initial version of this story. It was corrected on Tuesday, Aug. 21, 2012.