Bears are waking from winter hibernation

MONTPELIER — The Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department has begun to receive reports of bears coming out of their dens and is urging Vermonters to take steps now to prevent conflicts with bears over the spring and summer.

“Vermonters need to act to prevent bear conflicts now, even if they have never had a bear visit their property before,” said Jaclyn Comeau, the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department’s bear biologist. “Do not wait to take down your birdfeeders and bearproof your yard until a bear comes to visit.”

Bear incidents have been on the rise over the past several years. Officials believe this trend is a result of Vermont’s healthy black bear population learning to associate people and food over multiple generations. 

Shorter winters also mean that bears are emerging from their dens earlier in the spring. In recent years bear activity has begun in mid-March, roughly two weeks earlier than what is typically thought of as the start of bear aware season in northern New England.

“Mid-March is the time for Vermonters to take down our birdfeeders, make sure our garbage is secure, and protect our backyard chickens and bees with an electric fence,” said Comeau. “This helps teach bears that our yards and neighborhoods are not good places to search for food. But it will only work if everyone does their part.”

The department asks Vermonters to take the following proactive steps for coexisting with bears: 

• Take down birdfeeders between mid-March and December.

• Store garbage in bear-resistant containers or structures; trash cans alone are not enough.  

• Follow the steps on our web page for composting in bear country. 

• Use electric fences to keep chickens and honeybees safe. 

• Request a bear-resistant dumpster from your waste hauler. 

• Feed your pets indoors. 

• Never feed bears, deliberately or accidentally. 

“Preventing bears from having access to human-related foods is key to successful coexistence with these long-lived and intelligent animals,” said Comeau.

Vermont Fish and Wildlife also asks Vermonters to submit reports of bears engaging in potentially dangerous behavior like targeting birdfeeders and garbage, feeding on crops or livestock, or investigating campgrounds. Reports can be submitted on the department’s Living with Black Bears web page. The data help biologists keep track of bear incidents and provide early interventions to head off conflicts. 

“At the end of the day, purposely feeding a bear is not just bad for the bear,” said Comeau. “It is also dangerous for you, it causes problems for your neighbors, and it is illegal. If bears are finding food on your property it is your responsibility to remove that attractant and report a problem before the situation escalates.” 

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