Hugh Reynolds: Ursine urges

An un-camera shy bear.

An un-camera shy bear.

A fable: Former Shandaken supervisor Neil (“There’s no law west of Boiceville”) Grant and a black bear walk into a bar in Phoenicia. “Neilie!” the bartender exclaims. “Long time no see!”

Grant died in 1999, but the truth in jest is that bears are getting too close to home. Why, just last week, a frightened black bear jumped through the plate-glass window of a liquor store in the wee hours on Main Street in Phoenicia. Witnesses said it had been running down the sidewalk, which seems perfectly normal to Phoenicians these days, when spooked by the headlights of a car. The bear fled the liquor store the way it entered, without imbibing, leaving behind fur and blood.

The sighting of black bears, some up close, has become all too common in areas far more populated than the foothills of the Catskills. Deer remain a pervasive problem, but deer for the most part are not dangerous. Not so if one corners a bear or messes with her cubs. And they can easily beat Usain Bolt to a gold medal.


The Department of Environmental Conservation, which monitors these things, says it’s all about foraging. Bears can’t find enough to eat in their natural habitat, so they roam into populated areas. Dumpsters and garbage cans make inviting targets, as does an unlocked back door. A really hungry bear will just break in.

DEC strongly recommends that people not feed bears, and that they secure their garbage and birdfeeders. Those who ignore such rules can be subject to fines.

DEC knows its business, but I wonder in this case if they have things backwards, which is to say, why not feed the bears where they live? Planting a few upland meadows in buckwheat might help.

Back in the day when we had severe, prolonged winters, DEC used to feed the deer. Whole herds were saved from starvation. Some of their descendants ate my roses in Kingston last month.

I’m assuming the notion of feeding wild bears, which (hello!) we’re already feeding, raises animal-rights issues. Like humans, bears that get a free ride could become lazy and dependent. In that sense, wouldn’t be real wild bears any more.

Sending a posse of specially-licensed hunters into the woods — some could score from their back porches or their pickup trucks — is nobody’s idea of an alternative. Better “management” (another euphemism for killing) of the bear population might be considered.

Meekly monitoring this unfortunate and potentially deadly situation on an ad-hoc basis is more about hope than plan. I haven’t heard of anyone being savaged by a bear, but the potential is there. It usually takes a tragedy for government to address a clear and present hazard.

Nuclear option

For about the fourth time in recent years, the Ulster County Legislature has gone on record in opposition to extending the life of a nuclear power plant at Indian Point in Westchester County. Ulster lies in the 45-mile radius evacuation area, as noted by several legislators.

While the measure passed 12-9 along party lines with anti-nuke Manna Jo Greene abstaining due to employment conflicts, a certain weariness with the futility of memorializing resolutions seems to have set in.

“I’m sure the powers that be will yield to the will of the Ulster County Legislature,” scoffed former chairman John Parete of the Indian Point resolution. “Seems we have quite a few nuclear physicists here,” concurred current Chairman Ken Ronk.

That said, conveying the collective will of a legislature to “powers that be,” however routinely ignored, is not necessarily a waste of time.

A few months ago the legislature imposed a gag order on itself, re: memorializing resolutions. They’re not supposed to be debated, though legislators are free in the words of Ronk “to express them.” Ronk, who could have enforced the rule, admitted that expressing an opinion was “pretty much the same” as debating. And so they did, on and on.

There was a light moment when the diminutive Greene, who after abstaining due to employer conflicts rose to her full height to offer her views on the subject.

“No, no, Manna,” decreed Ronk from the chair, not unkindly. “You abstained. You cannot speak. Parliamentary rules.” Greene let out a sigh and quietly sat down.

An hour later she attempted to lobby journos kibitzing with other legislators in the parking lot. No dice, she was told, parliamentary procedure. In any event, Greene’s sincerely held beliefs on nuclear power, dating to the No Nukes! era of the 1980s, are widely documented.

Over a barrel

Legislators have complained the county was “held hostage” by owners of the Family Court building on Lucas Avenue in being forced to cast last-minute votes on a lease extension.


Nobody mentioned it in the 20-1 approval of the lease extension, but some legislators privately expressed concern over extension of a triple-net lease on a building the county will occupy for no more than two years. Triple-net means the tenant pays for everything: taxes, maintenance and repairs. Should the latter occur, the county would be on the hook.

That property owners had the county over the proverbial barrel — “We had no place else to go,” protested Ways and Means Committee Chairman Rich Gerentine — was a given. That the owners agreed to extend the lease for two years on almost the same (very generous) terms (plus $20,000 a year) suggests something less than shooting fish in a barrel.

On the other hand, the county was committed to a move to the Business Resource Center in the Town of Ulster at least six months ago, pending voter approval in November. Perhaps if the administration had started its secret negotiations sooner — the deadline was Aug. 31 — better terms might have been secured.

Budget blues

Kingston Mayor Steve Noble’s well-meaning attempt to engage the public in the city budget-making process played to mostly empty seats at City Hall last week, which is not to say it wasn’t a good idea. As the freshman Democrat will no doubt come to realize, taxpayers care more about the tax rate, a.ka. the bottom line, than the nuts and bolts of budget-making.

That said, the small minority that follows fiscal affairs understands that a state-mandated property tax levy hike cap of less than 1 percent (next year) leaves virtually no discretion in local budgets. According to City Comptroller John Tuey’s budget presentation at the forum, the city can increase its levy by about $200,000 without breaking the cap, which would allow for a 0.5 percent spending increase.