Bear sightings on the increase

ADDISON COUNTY — On the evening of June 28, a black bear demolished a steel fence at Paul and Kristin Francoeur’s home on Shackett Road in Leicester, following the scent of grain that had been freshly laid out for the Francoeurs’ alpacas.
Kristin Francoeur explained that alpacas are protective of their food, and it appears that when one of the animals stood up to the bear he hit it with a fatal blow that broke its neck and burst an artery.
While the Francoeurs did not see the bear attack, Kristin said that one of the steel fence posts had been pulled out of the ground and the post next to it had been bent in half, leaving a makeshift gate for the bear to pass through. Paw prints left around the area indicated that the bear was very large.
The Francoeurs believed the bear was a large male that has recently been seen around the area, and which local hunters have placed at 200 to 250 pounds and six feet tall when standing on its back legs.
The incident on Shackett Road is just one example of an increase in encounters between bears and humans in Addison County this year, including the June 4 shooting of a black bear that broke into a chicken coop on North Branch Road in Ripton.
According to Vermont central district game warden Lt. Don Isabelle, the Ripton homeowner acted in accord with a Vermont state law that allows an individual to dispose of a bear if it has done damage to property, such as crops or livestock (the law does not cover damage to birdfeeders). Individuals who receive property damage are encouraged to contact the nearest Vermont Department of Fish and Wildlife office or game warden before taking action on their own.
“Through the 1990s we experienced an increase in black bears as a direct result of a shortened hunting season and regular growth of beechnuts,” said Scott Darling, a biologist with Vermont Fish and Wildlife.
A large quantity of beechnuts and acorns provides a reliable source of food for the creatures and results in more productive bears. Such a stable food source also increases the chances of cub survival.
Darling said the growth in the black bear population was an intended result of the shortened hunting season, but because of the nuisance bears can be to personal property the public no longer wants the population to continue growing.
“If we need to make adjustments to stabilize the population, we will,” Darling added.
According to Darling, the bear population in Vermont has increased from around 3,000 in the late 1990s to an estimated 5,000 to 5,700 now. The major problem presented by a larger bear population is that they are food opportunists, a trait that frequently brings them to populated areas.
While bears can find food in the forest, it is easier for them to obtain it from sources left out by people, such as pet food, bird feeders, garbage and campsites.
“Once bears find a food source, they continue to return to it,” Isabelle explained.
Mike Korkuc, a wildlife observer in Leicester who keeps the Lake Dunmore community updated via email on wildlife happenings in the area, verified the increase in bear spottings.
“There have been a lot more reports of people seeing bears,” said Korkuc. The week of June 14, Warren Lillie reported seeing a mother bear with two cubs in his backyard on Hooker Road in Leicester, and on June 27 Shelagh Smith, also of Hooker Road, reported that a bear had pushed over pots in her garden and taken down her birdfeeder.
Though Korkuc himself has not seen a bear, fresh scat on his lawn on June 26 provided ample evidence of the animals’ presence in the area.
Bird feeders seem to be the bears’ easiest food targets, and are responsible for the majority of the bear sightings in the past month.
One such example is Bonnie Adkins who was sitting in her living room on Hooker Road on June 28 and heard a noise out in her yard. When she looked out her window, she saw a female bear eating out of her bird feeder about three feet away from her house. When she went to the phone to call her daughter, she noticed two smaller creatures in the yard which she mistakenly took for dogs at first, but then realized they were bear cubs. 
“The mother was smaller than I would expect a bear to be,” Adkins said, adding that she believes it’s the same bear that she has seen twice in the past year, though this is the first time she has seen the cubs.
While Hooker Road has had its share of recent bear encounters, other areas in Leicester have also been affected by the growing bear population.
On June 30 Jean Somerset, who lives on Isthmus Road on Lake Dunmore, awoke to find her metal bird feeder bent completely to the ground. Though Somerset didn’t see the bear, the damage to the feeder made her believe that no other animal could have been responsible. Somerset said she won’t be putting her feeder back up this summer.
Additionally, Vicki Nolette of Delorm Road in Leicester saw a bear at 7 a.m. on June 2. While having coffee in her living room, Nolette’s son looked out the sliding glass door across from where he sat and saw a female bear about 12 feet from the back deck.
Nolette said that after seeing a bear in her yard last year she learned not to keep a bird feeder up, and her garbage is stored in secure containers. While the bear may have been attracted by smells from a grill on the back deck, Nolette explained that it seemed to just be passing through.
The Vermont Fish and Wildlife website, www.vtfishandwildlife.com, provides information on how to handle a bear encounter and gives preventative measure to reduce the chances of unknowingly luring bears out of the woods.
If confronted with a black bear, Vermonters are advised to keep one’s distance, make oneself look as large as possible, and make noise. Do not run away from the bear, back away slowly instead.
To reduce potentially dangerous encounters, Fish and Wildlife officials encourage residents not to keep birdfeeders up between April 1 and Dec. 1, to store garbage in secure containers, and to keep food in airtight containers either hung from a tree or inside a vehicle. Additionally, house pets should be fed indoors when possible, and barbeque grills should be kept clean at all times and stored inside when not in use.
Reporter Erin Cummings is at [email protected].

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