With the onset of warmer weather, New York’s black bear population will once again be on the move. According to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, black bears are abundant in Ulster, Sullivan and Orange counties.
Black bears will take advantage of almost any readily available food source, including bird feeders and garbage. To prevent encounters between bears and humans, people should never intentionally feed bears and should take every precaution to discourage bears from seeking out food sources in neighborhoods and other residential areas.
“Typically, black bears are timid and will avoid all contact with humans,” DEC Region 3 Director Willie Janeway said. “However, bears will become a nuisance and can cause significant damage if they believe they can obtain an easy meal from bird feeders, garbage cans, dumpsters, barbeque grills, tents, vehicles, out-buildings or houses. Taking preventative action early and consistently is crucial to avoid chronic bear problems.”
A recently passed law gives DEC the authority to cite people for both intentional and non-intentional bear feeding. The latter includes food attractants such as garbage, pet food or bird seed.
It is in the best interest of both bears and people if bears get their food solely from wild sources. Once a bear learns to associate certain structures with food, it can become a serious nuisance to people and a threat to itself. Bears that lose their natural fear of humans are much more likely to be illegally shot, hit by an automobile or destroyed under a DEC nuisance permit. Some studies suggest that when a bear is fed (either directly or indirectly) its life expectancy is cut by as much as 50 percent.
Once a bear becomes a problem, DEC is often asked to relocate the bear. Contrary to popular belief, bear relocations are rarely effective at solving the problem. Bears are extremely mobile and have excellent homing abilities. Relocated bears often return to their original capture site or continue their bad habits at a new location. If the circumstances that led to the original problem are not corrected, other bears will quickly be attracted to the site and the bear/human conflicts will persist.
In addition to being ineffective, bear relocations are extremely time consuming and often dangerous. The heavy door on the bear traps, although not dangerous to bears, presents a potential danger to curious humans and pets. The best way to avoid a nuisance encounter is to remove all food sources. Removing the food source will remove the bear.
Because virtually all nuisance bear problems are the result of hungry bears being attracted to human food, pet food, bird food or garbage, these problems can be minimized by taking these simple precautions:
- Stop feeding birds as soon as the snow melts. Birds don’t need supplemental food in the summer, when natural foods are most abundant.
- Dispose of garbage often and store it in a secure building prior to disposal.
- If garbage is picked up at the curb, put the garbage out just before the scheduled pickup or place it in a roadside bear-resistant container. Do not put garbage out the night before pick-up at the curb.
- Clean garbage cans frequently with ammonia.
- Do not burn garbage, it’s illegal and it attracts bears.
- Do not add meat scraps, bones or melon rinds to your compost pile.
- Clean up barbecue grills before night fall and after they cool down store them inside.
- Feed pets indoors and store pet food indoors. If pets must be fed outdoors, take in all uneaten food and dishes before dark.
- Turn off kitchen exhaust fans that vent to the outside whenever possible.
- When camping, keep food out of sight and secured in the trunk of a hard topped, locked vehicle if one is available. If a vehicle is not available, hang food and garbage from a tree at least eight feet off the ground. Keep picnic tables, utensils, fireplaces and the surrounding areas clean.
Provided by the New York State DEC