As weather warms, beware of bears
By ARIEL ZANGLA
NEW PALTZ — With the return of warm weather, New York’s black bear population will soon be emerging from its winter dens, and the state Department of Environmental Conservation is offering tips for avoiding problems with the animals.
In general, individuals should:
• Never intentionally feed bears, which is illegal.
• Stop feeding birds as soon as the last of the snow melts.
• Keep garbage secured.
• Never burn garbage (also illegal).
• Feed pets indoors and store pet food indoors.
• When camping, keep food out of sight and secured.
Anyone who encounters a bear should “just make sure to give it space so it doesn’t feel threatened,” said Matthew Merchant, a wildlife biologist with the environmental department. Merchant said most bears try to avoid humans, but if the animal does not leave, speak to the bear in a normal voice and back away to safety.
Merchant said there are about 2,500 black bears in the Catskills region, which includes Ulster, Dutchess and Greene counties. On average, he said, the Department of Environmental Conservation’s Region 3 receives 325 bear complaints annually, most involving bear sightings or bears getting into garbage or bird feeders. Less often, the state receives reports a bear that has entered a person’s home or that has killed small animals or livestock, he said.
Merchant said bears also can be problematic for apiary owners because they break the beehives open and cause damage.
In 2009, Merchant said, there were 387 bear complaints in Region 3, which covers Ulster, Dutchess, Sullivan, Orange, Rockland, Putnam and Westchester counties. He said of those complaints, 21 were for home entries.
“It’s in the best interest of both bears and people if bears get their food solely from wild sources,” the environmental department said in a press release. “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 destroyed under a DEC nuisance permit.”
For more information about black bears, go to www.dec.state.ny.us. To report an individual feeding bears in Region 3, call (845) 256-3013 or (877) 457-5680, toll-free.