The Vermont Department of Fish and Wildlife is receiving statewide reports of black bears foraging in yards, outbuildings and livestock pens this spring, and the department is urging Vermonters to take proactive measures to coexist safely with bears.

“Bears — and humans — are at risk when bears spend time in human-dominated landscapes,” said Jaclyn Comeau, bear project manager for the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department. “Every time a bear finds an easy meal of birdseed, compost, or unsafe trash, it learns a dangerous association between people and food. Coexistence with bears begins when Vermonters take proactive steps to help keep bears wild.

Courtesy of VF&WD
Bird feeders, compost, unsecured garbage and other food sources left out during warm months when bears have emerged from their dens are a serious source of risk for bears, encouraging them to hang out in human-dominated landscapes.

Today, Vermont is home to a stable bear population estimated at 4,600 to 5,780, nearly four times the state’s estimated population of 1,200 to 1,500 bears in 1975. In Vermont, the loss of habitat, earlier spring weather due to climate change, and increased development and encroachment in remote areas may increase the chances of bears encountering humans.

In these situations, potential food sources for bears, including bird feeders, compost, or unsecured garbage, may encourage bears to spend more time near homes or other developments, causing conflicts between bears and humans.

Many bear-human conflicts can be avoided with a few simple, proactive steps. The department recommends Vermonters follow these strategies to safely coexist with Vermont’s healthy black bear population:

  • Dismantle the feeders until December. According to Audubon’s Native Plants for Birds Program, Vermonters can attract birds by planting bird-friendly native plants instead.
  • Make garbage inaccessible. Store trash in a secure structure and bear-proof container. The ministry’s website has instructions for protecting a trash can from bears.
  • Dispose of trash frequently. Vermont residents with pickup services must wait until the morning of pickup to take out the trash.
  • Demand bear-proof dumpsters for your community.
  • Compost responsibly. Follow the steps for composting in bear country on the ministry’s website. Compost should be 3 parts brown materials to 1 part kitchen scraps, turned frequently and kept in a tumbler or sturdy trash can.
  • Use electric fences to protect chickens and bees. Fences should be 4,000 to 6,000 volts, regularly tested and baited. The ministry’s website has tips for protecting chicken and bee pens from bears.
  • Clean your grill after each use.
  • Make bears feel uncomfortable in your garden. Safe methods include shouting, banging pots and pans, or using other noise-producing devices from inside your home. Never shoot a bear to scare it. Even BBs can seriously injure bears.

Vermont Fish & Wildlife requires that all bear encounters be reported to the department. Use the black bear incident report tab on vtfishandwildlife.com or contact your local game warden. This helps experts help everyone in Vermont better coexist with bears.

“Following these steps can save the lives of bears and help protect you, your neighbors and your property,” Comeau said, adding that Vermonters can visit the ministry’s Life with Black Bears webpage for more. information.

“Please do your part to be a good neighbor and help keep Vermont’s bears wild!” she added.

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