PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — Yogi might have had his “pic-i-nic” baskets and Winnie the Pooh his honey jar, but a black bear has found a pretty sweet deal of his own up in the County.
Sightings began late last week of a massive black bear in and around the 38-acre SAD 1 Educational Farm on State Street in Presque Isle and witnesses are estimating its size at around 400 pounds.
“He’s really not a welcome guest,” John Hoffses, farm manager, said Monday morning. “We have upwards of 80 students working on the farm this summer and this is really a safety issue.”
The farm, which produces and sells a variety of fresh fruits, vegetables, apple cider and natural honey is a perfect smorgasbord for a hungry bear, of which there has been no shortage this year.
“Thanks to an early warm-up the bears came out earlier than normal this spring,” Doug Rafferty, public information and education director with the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife said on Monday. “They will go where their nose takes them.”
According to Rafferty there have been 600 bear complaints called into DIF&W statewide so far this year with 100 in northern Maine.
Warden Kevin Pelkey was at the school farm on Saturday, and while he did not see the bear, he did hear from several people who had spotted it.
“Like any wild animal, let this one have its space,” Pelkey said. “This is a situation of the bear doing what it naturally does, only it’s a little closer to town this time.”
The trails and orchards in the school’s farm are popular attractions for area residents walking their dogs or taking evening strolls and Hoffses said he just wants people to be alert.
“Safety is our No. 1 priority,” he said. “It might be a good idea for people to stay out of the orchard for the time being.”
Hoffses, who said he does not wish the bear any ill will, is looking into hiring an expert to trap and relocate the bear, which has not confined its visits to the farm.
“I saw [the bear] Saturday morning across the street,” said Michael Chasse, who lives adjacent to the farm. “I was taking off for my morning walk and there he was [and] it was incredible to see how huge he is.”
The bear, Chasse said, lumbered across the road, through some trees lining his property and into some raspberry bushes.
“It was amazing how effortlessly and quickly he covered that distance to our yard,” he said.
The bear also paid a visit to Chasse’s neighbor Brian Hamel.
“Last week I was home for lunch and making a sandwich [and] looked out the window and saw a big black bear on the edge of our tree line near our deck,” Hamel said on Monday. “I took a couple of pictures and he just went behind our shed and off into the woods.”
The experience was a first for Hamel.
“I’ve seen moose and other wildlife in our yard but never a bear,” he said. “He looked pretty well fed.”
Dining on the fruits and veggies at the educational farm, Hoffses said, is like an around-the-clock Thanksgiving feast.
Currently student workers are tending and harvesting strawberries and Hoffses said the raspberries are well on their way toward ripening. Next come blueberries followed by apples.
For dessert the bear needs look no further than the dozen active beehives on the farm.
“I’m sure he’s a very happy bear,” Hoffses said. “We’d just like to get him relocated somewhere he won’t come back.”
Chasse shares that sentiment.
“I’m not exactly nervous about a bear hanging around,” he said. “But it’s funny how the mind plays tricks; I was out for a walk at around 10 in the evening and it just felt darker than normal.”
Chasse said his service dog, a yellow lab named Caleb, has been sniffing around a bit more than usual.
“I have him attached to a short leash and it kind of feels like I’m walking around with a bear treat right now,” he joked. “I don’t want to see the bear harmed, but it’s a little too busy and populated for him to have his home here; he needs to find a new place to hang out.”
Trapping and relocating bears is something done by private experts, Pelkey said, adding that DIF&W does not trap and relocate.
“This bear is not a real threat,” Pelkey said. “It’s just like any other nuisance bear and trying to solve a problem — in this case finding food.”
Living in Maine, Pelkey said, means coexisting with many wild animals and finding ways to work things out so the situation is safe for people and wildlife.
“We are going to look into getting the bear trapped,” Hoffses said. “They’re going to need a really big trap.”