HERMON, Maine — Maury Thayer lives in a quiet, wooded subdivision not far from Hermon Meadow Golf Course. Last week, he learned that he also had a few previously unidentified tenants living on his land.
While walking the property with his son and 3-year-old grandson, Thayer checked out a hole he had seen previously, where a discarded stump had been lain near a pile of rocks.
“I looked in the hole and the bear was looking back at me,” said Thayer, whose home is on Timberview Drive.
Thayer contacted the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, and biologists Randy Cross, Jennifer Vashon and Lisa Bates responded to the call.
Cross, a veteran leader of the state’s ongoing bear study project, said when he saw the size of the hole, he expected that a large male had denned up in the makeshift cave.
He was wrong: The crew found a mother bear and two yearlings in what he described as a “picturesque” den.
“It looked like what you’d think a bear would like,” Cross said. “It was beautiful.”
Cross and his colleagues tranquilized the bears, weighed them and fit them with ear tags so that they can be identified if they cause trouble in the neighborhood. The mother bear weighed 182 pounds, while a male yearling was 56 pounds and his sister weighed in at 50.
The bears are likely to move out of their den in the near future — that begins happening around April 1 in the Bangor area — and may or may not be seen by the neighbors again. Cross said he did a bit of field research that leads him to believe that the animals have not been a nuisance in the past.
“I was encouraged that all of the scats from last fall [around the den] were 100 percent apples,” Cross said. “No birdseed. No garbage. That’s good to see.”
Cross explained that if the bears had been eating food they had gathered at nearby homes before heading into their den, they would be more apt to seek those foods when they emerged.
The den was about 80 yards from the house, but is not visible from the home, Thayer said.
While the humans couldn’t see the bears, the bears have had a bird’s eye view of their human landlords. Cross said the house is visible up a long hill when you stand next to the den.
Cross said the timing of the incident was fortunate: Typically, the DIF&W issues a cautionary press release about avoiding contact with bears early in April. The discovery of the den provided him the chance to make that point just as bears are moving out of their dens and looking for food.
Cross said it’s important that neighbors work together to keep bears from visiting. Among the easiest ways to do that: Avoid storing trash outside, take down bird feeders and keep outdoor grills clean.
“We always tell people to stop feeding bears from April 1 to Nov. 1 if you’re in an area where you think there could be bears,” Cross said. “And at this point, with the range expansion that we’ve seen over the past 20 or 30 years, there are not a lot of places that you could say, in the whole state of Maine, ‘I don’t have to worry about bears here.’ A lot of places are low-risk, but they still have risk.”
Cross said the local game warden in Hermon put out signs in the neighborhood to warn people that a bear den had been discovered, and one of those signs is attached to a utility pole just across the street from Thayer’s home.
That neighbor, however, admitted that he had not seen the sign and had not heard about bears until the BDN showed up and took photographs of the sign.