MILFORD, Maine — A town besieged by rats has a new animal problem in its midst — a 300-pound black bear wandering around in a densely populated neighborhood.
Pine Street in Milford is an average slice of suburbia — houses neatly lined next to each other and children playing in the yards. But it is also an area where one resident is feeding wildlife in her backyard, and has attracted a large number of rats and other animals, including a bear estimated to be 300 pounds.
The situation is putting public officials on edge.
This past week, the town was dealt another blow when it found that a Pine Street resident on the fringes of the rat radius had been feeding wildlife. At first, town officials were concerned about the town-wide rat infestation, but with the introduction of a massive black bear that is frequenting the wildlife feeding area, the level of concern is growing.
“The last thing we want is a bear attack in the middle of Milford,” Fire Chief Jason Mailman said.
Previously, the rat problem was confined to a section of the Village area stretching from Ferry Street to County and Main roads. But with the sighting of rats feasting on the food pile, town officials realized the problem has spread deeper into town.
During the Milford Selectboard meeting Tuesday night, Mailman said that town health officer and assistant fire chief Chris Liepold was aware of the wildlife feeding area, which is a pile of corn and sunflower seeds approximately 20 feet wide and 12 to 18 inches deep.
A neighbor installed a game camera to see what was feeding on the pile, and so far has caught photos of deer, raccoons, fox, a bear and “copious amounts of rats,” Mailman said.
While rats pose risks including carrying harmful diseases and the potential to destroy property, the other animals that have been documented feeding off the pile with a game camera are even more cause for concern, according to Mark Latti, communications director for Maine Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife.
Feeding wildlife in a residential setting, like Pine Street in Milford, can cause a lot of problems, including the risk of rabies and other diseases, Latti said. Additionally, when wildlife come into close contact with humans, the possibility of the situation going awry is multiplied.
“It can become an issue of personal safety. In the southern part of the state where rabies is more prevalent, we’ve had animals attack people,” Latti said. “Also, if an animal feels cornered, or feels threatened, they will lash out.”
Pine Street is a residential street, packed with houses full of families and children, and right around the corner is the Dr. Lewis S. Libby School — all places a bear should not be wandering around, Mailman said.
“It’s not something we want wandering around near where children are playing,” Mailman said. “It’s not something we want hanging around.”
Armed with this new information, the town may be able to force the resident to clean up the yard, marking the first tangible step toward curbing the growing wildlife issue.
According to Maine law, a local health officer can specifically request an owner of a property clean it up if it’s a public issue, but the officer has to talk to the Maine Department of Health and Human Services first.
For now, people who live near the food pile are encouraged to keep a close eye on wildlife in the area and avoid interacting with any to ensure human and animal safety.