Come springtime, some of us think of fishing. Others begin planning their garden layout. And some of us start wondering when the bears are going to stop by for a snack.
That’s right — here in Maine, we’re never far from nature, and it’s important to remember that some forms of wildlife are much closer to us than we might think.
Earlier this week I received an email from a reader that reinforced that fact.
“We can’t be the only snowbirds who didn’t fly this past winter, who, having been home, have been feeding the birds.” the reader wrote. “Since we know that we are on a BBBC (Black Bear Breakfast Circuit), it would be nice if you would give all of us a shout out as to when the bruins are waking up so as to minimize property damage.”
Curious, I reached out to Jennifer Vashon, the state bear biologist for the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, to ask when the bears will be emerging from their dens.
The answer: Some already have.
“Bears should be moving around now, typically most have left their den by early April,” Vashon said. “So it is time for [people] to start bringing in their bird feeders, storing their outdoor grills inside when not in use, and store garbage cans inside.”
A few years back I heard that a few homeowners in Veazie and Orono had taken to feeding a mother bear and her cubs, sometimes tossing sandwiches to the bears during what became regular photo opportunities.
Providing that kind of incentive to a black bear is not a good idea, biologists say.
The DIF&W regularly posts guidelines designed to help homeowners decrease interactions with bears. Among those:
— Secure garbage and recycling: Food and food odors attract bears, so don’t encourage them with easily available food, liquids or garbage. Store garbage cans inside until the morning of trash pickup.
— Remove and store bird feeders: Birdseed and grains have lots of calories, so they’re very attractive to bears. Removing feeders is the best way to avoid damage to your feeders and property. Rake up any seed from the ground and store bird feeders and bird seed inside. Even an empty bird feeder can be enticing to a bear and they will tear it down, damage or destroy it. You can continue to feed birds in the winter when bears are not active.
— Never leave pet food outdoors: Feed pets indoors when possible. If you must feed pets outside, feed in single portions and remove food and bowls after feeding. Store pet food inside where bears can’t see or smell it.
— Clean and store your grill: Clean grills after each use and make sure that all grease, fat and food particles are removed. Store clean grills and smokers in a secure building to keep bears out.