ORONO, Maine — Three black bears, likely part of the family of bears discovered in a hollow tree den in March, have wreaked enough havoc in the university town, and concerned game wardens are preparing to evict them.
On Tuesday morning, one of those bears was spotted walking down Main Street, where it was destroying garbage cans in order to find food.
Later in the day, game wardens and wildlife biologists deployed two culvert traps in an attempt to capture and relocate the bruins.
“These bears are exactly the kind of bears we don’t want to see,” Game Warden Lt. Dan Scott said Tuesday afternoon.
The bears have been habituated to humans and have learned to associate humans with food.
“We have reports that they were being hand-fed last fall, [with people] throwing sandwiches to them,” Scott said. “They continue to associate backyards and humans with food.”
Scott said that in recent weeks, nearly two dozen complaints have been filed by concerned Orono residents. Most of the bear complaints have been between a traffic signal on Kelly Road, Dirigo Pines and the downtown area.
Scott said wardens suspect that the bears are three of the four that were found in a den in a tree off Forest Avenue in March. That den held four bears, but Scott said the lone male yearling bear may have moved along on its own, as often happens.
Scott said the town of Orono, the Orono Police Department and the warden service are working together to spread the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife’s nuisance bear message: Make food scarce, and the bears will have no reason to visit.
Among the food sources that bears will often visit: Bird feeders, grease-covered grills, dog food stored outdoors and trash cans not kept inside.
Scott said there’s a complicating factor in Orono: Although many have called to complain about the bears, others continue to actively feed them because they want to watch the bears up close.
The Orono Police Department is distributing fliers that outline the DIF&W’s bear policy and hopes more residents will follow the guidelines more carefully.
And Scott said that contrary to popular opinion, game wardens try not to trap and transfer bears, preferring to deal with the problem by convincing people to remove the attractants.
The situation in Orono was severe enough that Scott spoke with biologists from the wildlife division of the DIF&W, and the traps were deployed.
“This is not our typical practice,” Scott said.
If the bears are successfully trapped, DIF&W policy calls for them to be moved at least 70 air miles away, Scott said. That often means a drive of 120 miles or more.
And even if the Orono bears can be relocated, that doesn’t mean that Orono residents won’t have to stay vigilant with the potential bear food they leave lying around.
“This may not resolve the problem there,” Scott said. “Those bears may return. Other bears may move in.”