The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, November 3, 2006


Black bears fear people — and other bear facts

This Carlisle bear was photographed on North Road in August 2006, investigating but not sampling the bird feeders. (Photo by Bonnie Ford)
With all the recent sightings and talk about the black bear in town, it seemed to be time to interview the responsible authorities to get the facts on black bears. We asked for advice on how people can safely co-exist with black bears in Carlisle, and gathered many helpful observations and tips that may prove reassuring and useful to the Carlisle community.

Every authority interviewed strongly emphasized that it is highly unlikely that the bear will approach anyone in Carlisle. The black bear's natural instinct in the presence of humans (or dogs) is to run away and hide rather than to be aggressive. Contrary to a strongly held popular belief, this preference to flee rather than fight is also true for a female black bear with cubs.

Bears stay hidden from people

"The bear is more afraid of people than people are of the bear," stated Dennis Marchand, Acting Forest and Park Supervisor. He is in charge of both Great Brook Farm State Park, headquartered on Lowell Street, and the Lowell Heritage State Park. "I haven't had any complaints about bears from the public visiting the park this season," Marchand added. "They probably will never see the bear. It's very good at detecting people as they approach, and staying hidden."

Wildlife biologist Erik Amati of the Northeast Wildlife District of MassWildlife located in Acton, agreed. "It's very unlikely that a hiker or a person riding a horse would encounter a bear on the trails. The black bear's sense of smell is incredibly acute. It has poor vision, but good hearing, so it will know someone is coming well in advance and be quickly on its way." Making noise while you're on the trail is a good idea.

The Carlisle bear marched in the school's Halloween parade, thanks to fourth-grader Matthew Boor. (Courtesy photo)
Black bear sightings may be especially high in October because the bear is ranging far and wide to find food before winter sets in. How does the bear find its food? It uses its acute sense of smell. The black bear bulks up in late fall by eating heartily to prepare for a long period of winter dozing and inactivity. This inactive period lasts approximately from November until March.

Bears and food sources

"Most of the complaints we get from Carlisle residents about the bear are about it being a nuisance with feeders and other food sources," stated Sergeant Kevin Cardone of the Carlisle Police Department. "If people call looking for advice, we advise them to keep their food sources sealed up in containers and in secured structures so the bear can't smell or reach them. If they have an orchard or bee-keeping operation that's being disturbed, we tell them about the use of electric fences. We send them to the MassWildlife website, which provides a lot of information." ( MassWildlife, also known as the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife, is the state agency in charge of conserving and managing the Commonwealth's wildlife.)

Cardone attended a talk for law enforcement officers about black bears given by bear biologist Jim Cardoza of MassWildlife's Westborough field office. "People in the western part of the state have a lot more bears living with them, but there has never been a black bear attack recorded in the state of Massachusetts." He added, "If people see a bear in their yard or near their barn at night, I've found it effective to shine a powerful flashlight at the bear's eyes. That usually makes it turn and run."

Amati said that negative interactions with black bears are generally the human's fault. "Problems arise when bears get habituated to human food sources. If people leave food lying around, the bear will find and eat it. It has a very good memory, so it will return to find food at that site. People need to be proactive and use their common sense." He had these recommendations:

· Take your bird feeders into the house during the warmer seasons when the bear is active. You can put them out again when winter sets in and the bear isn't around.

· Secure your garbage. A bear can smell unprotected food sources a quarter mile away.

· If you have manure or compost piles, that will attract bears.

· If you have livestock, keep them in the barn behind secured doors at night. Keep animal feed in airtight storage containers, which you can get from any equine supply store. Molasses, oats, and grains make great meals for a bear.

· Put electric fencing around your hives.

Amati stressed,"Bears associate humans with food sources, not as food."

Steer clear of the bear

Obviously, people should steer clear of the bear. Approaching a wild animal is not advisable. People hoping to get a look at the bear can create a problem for the bear. If they approach, it might flee up a tree to be safe. If people remain in the vicinity looking at the treed bear, it will not feel safe enough to climb down and fade away into the forest. If you see a treed bear, go away from it - not toward it.

"Education is so important," emphasized Great Brook Farm State Park Interpreter Rebecca Markey, who leads the barn tours and arranges the nature programs at the park. "We'd love to do something about the black bear next season. We'll do our research and arrange to have a professional speaker give the presentation. There are lots of park interpreters in the western part of the state that have experience with black bears. I think getting more information out to the community would be very helpful."

Bear safety tips in a nutshell? Don't feed the bear. Don't leave any sort of food around and available for the bear. Don't go near the bear; give it space. If everyone does these things, we can co-exist safely with black bears in Carlisle.

2006 The Carlisle Mosquito