Friday, April 20, 2007
The bare facts for bear watchers
There were almost enough people for a Town Meeting quorum at the
Black Bear information evening talk and slide presentation at the Corey auditorium on Thursday, April 5. Fisheries and Wildlife specialist Jim Cardoza, who has 38 years of experience with bears in Massachusetts, organized his talk under the subject headings of history, habitat, population, management and depredation, but to those whose experience of the black bear has been recent, close and personal, the informal discussion and question period following his formal comments would constitute a separate subject area, "Bears in my yard."
When Massachusetts was first settled, bears lived primarily in old hardwood forests in the western part of the state. Land use changed as fields were cleared and agriculture peaked and some available bear habitat was lost. Even so, in the first part of the last century, bears were rare. A project in which Cardoza has been involved began in 1970 and has amassed a body of information about bears in Massachusetts.
For the statistically minded, one bear requires about one square mile of forest. However, bears range, with females existing within a 10-15 mile area and males over an area many times that size. Bears breed when they are a few years old and produce litters that average 2.2 cubs. When cubs emerge in the spring they eat what is available — grass, skunk cabbage, nuts and carrion; berries and insects during the summer; acorns, beechnuts, apples and corn in the fall. As Carlisle residents know, they eat bird food, horse grain, and honey in hives whenever they can get it.
The bear population in the state is increasing. It has gone from 450 in 1982, to 700-750 in 1987, 975-1175 in 1992, 1700-1800 in 1997 and 2900 — 3000 in 2006. With this rapid growth, bears have spread into new areas. Hunting season has been extended as the bear population has grown.
Bears and humans
Cardoza feels bears are being conditioned to human food, e.g., they get into trash in parks. He sees controlling that food supply as an effective way to control bear damage "because food is a powerful attractant." His bare facts about co-existing with bears take into account that Black Bears are generally not aggressive. A person walking a dog in the woods rarely has a bear problem unless the dog "tries to mix it up" with the bear, because bears are generally afraid of dogs. He also assured one person who was concerned about what would happen if they met a bear in the road by stating, "I haven't heard of anybody injured by bears in this state in over 200 years. "
Nuisance bears are another matter. They could be moved a short way, but "If there is something serious, the bear has to be destroyed." He would not like to move a bear that causes damage. He thinks the best policy for bears in Carlisle would be to exclude the animal from the problem, for instance, by removing birdfeeders. Bears do remember and they do return to places they have found food before. If the bear cannot be excluded, he says that a person can destroy animals that are destroying property without liability. If they do so, the fact should be reported to Fisheries and Wildlife in writing. He cautions beekeepers to "wait until the second time" to take action against a bear predator among the bee hives.
Carlisle Conservation Commission member Peter Burn summarized Carlisle's problem in commenting that we are attracting bears by providing food and shelter; "From the bear's point of view, it is bear habitat."
© 2007 The