Bear complaints on the rise

(Illustration by Will Lytle)

A spike in bear encounters has prompted the state Department of Environmental Conservation to encourage cooperation from area communities, particularly Woodstock and Shandaken.

There’s always been some intolerance for wildlife, but beasts take the brunt of it this time of year, noted DEC Wildlife Biologist Matthew Merchant, who made a presentation to the Woodstock Town Board on May 8. “Fifteen years ago, the priority was protecting bears and raising their populations. Now the priority is conflicts,” Merchant said.

A majority of bears prefer natural food sources, but when those aren’t available because of drought or other reasons, they’ll seek other food, he said. That’s when bears make a mess of garbage cans.

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Woodstock alone can account for up to 30 complaints out of 300 for the seven-county region of Westchester, Dutchess, Putnam, Sullivan, Ulster, Rockland and Orange.

Merchant is encouraging Woodstock to be the first official bear-smart community in the state. That can be accomplished through local laws requiring bear-proof containers, education and other outreach.

Hurdles against bear-proof containers are that they’re expensive and the trash-hauling companies are hesitant to use them. Many require unlocking, which keeps them from being used by the automated lift arms on the trucks. In Woodstock, the issue is compounded by weekenders who put their garbage out on a Sunday and it’s not collected until later in the week. For that, Merchant suggests keeping it secured and arranging for a neighbor to set it out on collection day. For the bear-proof bins, Merchant said other municipalities have purchased the containers and charged a fee for each residence to pay for them.

It is against the law to feed a bear directly or indirectly. One indirect method is an unsecured trash bin or dumpster that becomes a major attraction to bears over time, he said. The issue is enforcement. That’s where local laws could come into play, Merchant suggested.

More information is available at bearwise.org or by contacting Merchant at 845-256-3063.

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