Baxter State Park was established with a goal of the land remaining “forever wild,” and one of the benefits of that focus is the wide variety of native animals a visitor might see on the park’s more than 200,000 acres.
But one particular species — the black bear — has been a bit overly active this summer, prompting park officials to put a cautionary message up on its Facebook page.
“Bear activity in the park has been on the increase,” the post reads. “In order to keep the wild in wildlife, please remember to secure all food, trash, and scented items in your car or bear-proof container.”
Marc Edwards, a naturalist at Baxter State Park, said one particular bear is acting quite brazen, and meandering through an aptly named campground — Bear Brook Group Camping Area — looking for food.
“The first encounter was back in late June. Somebody, I guess, left a bag of Doritos and a bag of English muffins out, and [the bear has] been coming back ever since,” Edwards said.
But while the bear has been seen in the area, visitors have not had any face-to-face dealings with it.
“There haven’t really been any bear-visitor interactions. It’s mostly been bears [looking for] food at the campgrounds,” Edwards said. “They visited mostly when campers have been away from the campground [during the day].”
Edwards has been in touch with biologist Jennifer Vashon of the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, and park staff plan to take action to make sure visitors remain safe.
“Visitor education is first and foremost. Making sure our campers are aware of how to camp safely in bear territory, storing all of their scented items, toothpaste and such, all their food, their food wrappers, making sure they’re not burning their garbage and making sure they’re disposing of their cooking waste properly,” Edwards said. “So that’s really our first big line of defense. Now with this particular bear that’s been somewhat of a nuisance to us, we are going to try to deter it with rubber bullets.”
If that tactic doesn’t work, Edwards said the bear will likely be live-trapped and relocated.
Former Gov. Percival Baxter gave the land that makes up much of the park to the state over the course of many years, and demanded that the park would maintain its wild character.
“Basically, wildlife has undisputed dominion in [Baxter’s] Park,” Edwards said. “Now, we, we certainly want to honor that. But when it comes up against keeping our visitors safe, that’s where we need to take a little bit of action.”
Randy Cross, also a DIF&W biologist who leads the state’s bear crew, said there should be plenty of natural food on the landscape for bears to feed on without having to venture too close to humans.
“My impression is that the natural food situation has been very good, at least through late June where I was trapping in the Penobscot lowlands [to capture new bears for a long-term study],” Cross said. “The park is not that far to the north but may have missed some of the coastal storms that we got in our trapping area, but it would surprise me if the natural foods were significantly less in quality and quantity there.”
Baxter officials also included this list of things for visitors to do if they do encounter a bear:
— Make noise to scare them away.
— Make yourself bigger by raising your arms.
— Do not turn your back. Do not run away.
— Slowly back away.
— Report the encounter to a park ranger.
And visitors are advised to avoid the following:
— Approaching to take pictures.
— Throwing rocks.
— Chasing the bear.