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Bears

Bears

By Therese Ciesinski, GardenSMART

The days are longer, the weather is warming. Spring is almost here. March and early April are when bears finish their winter hibernation. That means bears are now waking up, hungry, and on the move.

Bears, you say? As a homeowner it’s not enough dealing with deer, rabbits, groundhogs, and squirrels; I’m now supposed to worry about bears? Depending on where you live, yes.  

Bears are no longer the “wildlife” that’s off in the wild. As civilization encroaches ever more on the wilderness, the animals turn up in our gardens, at our birdfeeders, on our decks, and in our swimming pools. Since spring is the time of year when a hungry bear will travel furthest for food, you might see one where you haven’t before. If you live in a rural area or even a suburb in some places, you should know what to do to keep your family and pets safe around your big, furry neighbors.

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The most common bear in North America is the black bear, which ranges from central Mexico to much of Canada. In the U.S., it’s mostly found in the Northeast, West Coast, Alaska, and the Rocky Mountains. Black bears are also found in small areas of the South and Southwest.

Black bears aren’t always black; they can be light or dark brown. Most are timid and prefer to avoid people. They are active mostly at night. Males weight anywhere from 150 to 550 lbs., females, 90 to 350 lbs. The more food available, the bigger the bears. 

Bears are omnivores. They will eat almost anything remotely edible, and love people food. Not only do they eat meat and fish, but all kinds of fruits, nuts, and vegetables. They will treat your garden as a buffet, and flatten it in the process. They can do real damage to fruit trees and shrubs. 

While bears mostly hibernate in rocky areas, caves, ravines, even large holes, they’ve been found sleeping under the decks and porches of homes, too.

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If you live in an area with bears:

  • It should go without saying that, if you are outside when a bear appears, move away and give it the right of way.
  • Remove anything outside your house that might be attractive to a bear. That usually means food, and includes garbage, recycling bins, and bird feeders.
  • Don’t add meat, fish, or smelly foods to your compost pile.
  • Store barbecue grills and other outdoor cooking equipment in a place where bears can’t get at them. Clean grills after every use; don’t leave grease or food particles outside.
  • Keep pets inside. Don’t feed your pets outdoors. If you must, put out only as much as the pets will eat, and take the bowls in immediately. Don’t store pet food outside.
  • Don’t leave food in a vehicle. Some bears have figured out how to open car doors.
  • Don’t let your dog chase or bark at a bear. Bears may look slow and lumbering, but can sprint up to 35 miles an hour. 
  • Don’t ever feed bears. It’s dangerous, and in many areas it’s illegal. 

If you see bears in your neighborhood, let your neighbors know so they can take precautions, too. If bear sightings are uncommon in your area, you might also want to inform your state’s department of wildlife.

Find more bear safety tips at bebearaware.org and bearwise.org.


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