Tuesday, April 7, 2009

It's Always Something

When we were living in the woods of Ashfield, about 45 minutes northeast of here, we always saw plenty of wildlife including moose, mink, otters, beavers, whatever. That was to be expected because we were in the middle of about 600 acres of forest, meadow and otherwise undeveloped land that was home to all kinds of animals. Since we were basically city types, we were thrilled to see nature that wasn't on the TV. But bears scared us.

We thought that moving to this little city of Easthampton would spare us from having to take our birdfeeders in between April 1 and December 1 when the bears are mostly active. But we quickly learned that this was not the case. Black bears are here and thriving. In fact, we have had as much or more bear contact here during our almost three years residency than we did during five years in Ashfield.

There are a lot of black bears in western Massachusetts. The population in 1970 was estimated at about 100 and now it's about 3000. They are thriving on garbage and birdseed, learning to live with careless people, and enjoying life in the suburbs.

Even our Governor Patrick became more familiar with bears recently during a bear inspection trip with Mass. Wildlife representatives. These photos were taken this past February in Whatley, Mass., about 15 miles from here, by Boston Globe photographer Mark Wilson.

Those cubs are about four weeks old and their mother has been tranquilized so that she could be examined and weighed. Mass. Wildlife tracks about 15 female bears with GPS collars.

Anyway, the reason I post all this is that we now have a bear who has discovered our yard and keeps coming back. She was here one day last fall and got a feeder, but I chased her away by banging pots and pans and yelling to scare her. She wasn't all that scared but did leave the yard. She returned again at night a couple of weeks later and climbed a tree outside our fence to escape our dogs that we had just let out into the yard.

Black bears generally do not attack people, but they have been known to break into sheds and houses, attack lifestock and become a nuisance. Wildlife experts suggest that people take care with their birdfeeders, compost, animal food and garbage so that bears are not attracted. Bears should not be fed and should be discouraged from coming near houses, sheds and yards.

Since this spring (mostly) has arrived, we have been careful with feeders, taking them in at night and only putting them out during the day if we were at home. Even that is risky as I kept telling Bonnie, who would not listen. (Told you so!) Last Sunday afternoon we had left feeders out and driven down the street briefly to see some friends. When we came home, Bonnie spotted the bear as soon as we came into the yard from the garage. I, of course, was oblivious. The bear was sitting calmly and dining from a suet feeder. She did not want to move. We drove her off and out of the yard by moving slowly toward her yelling and banging pots.

She is a very pretty bear, smallish, probably 3 1/2 feet tall on all fours, plump and with a beautiful, glossy, black coat. (We believe that she is a female because of her size and the fact that she is wearing a collar.)

She returned last night after dark, found no feeders hanging and turned on the motion-activated light outside the door as she prowled around the yard. Luckily Bonnie spotted the light and looked out the window to see the bear looking into the garage where the birdseed was stored. Again we drove her off, but she went reluctantly and climbed a tree outside our fence, peering around to look at us from the backside of the tree. We could see her eyes glowing in the beam of the flashlight and the lighter color of her muzzle. (I thought that she was really very cute even though we are advised not to think such thoughts.)

We got little sleep last night since we feared that she would return and break down the door to the garage, doing who knows how much damage. Bonnie had moved all the birdseed deeper into the garage and put it into sealed metal trashcans and plastic kitty litter buckets. Still, we were afraid she would be able to smell it and go after it.

I called Mass. Wildlife this morning for advice and they said that bears have a long memory and it would take a while to deprogram her. They suggested that we get an airhorn or a loud whistle and put the birdseed into airtight containers. There is not much else to be done except to try not to attract her with food and to make it unpleasant if she returns.

Meanwhile, we have to be careful with the dogs and only take them out at night into the yard on leashes. We're afraid that if they were to corner the bear, she could swipe at them with those long claws and powerful arms. Just one more thing to worry about.


Joanne Mattera Art Blog said...

Don't bears like honey? Doesn't wax smell like honey? Keep your wax in covered bins, too. Eek.

Nancy Natale said...

Luckily, Joanne, my wax is in my studio, not at home, so I don't have to worry about the bear coming after it. Thanks for the warning!