Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Our New Neighbors, the Bears

Above is a picture of a new resident in my town, a suburb that was founded more than 150 years ago.

Just about every day now, we get a robocall from the police department advising that a black bear has been spotted in another back yard.  

Bears have been seen near four of our six elementary schools and a couple other neighborhoods as well.  A 35-year resident of my town says this is the first year he ever has heard of black bears here. 

Our grade schools are now "sheltering in place," which means students cannot go outside during recess or lunch hours during this, one of the two pleasant seasons of the year.  Police cruisers are patrolling schools to watch for bears.  

The cops are not taking action against bears, we have learned, unless one climbs a tree.  There has been no explanation why a bear in a tree is a bigger problem than a bear by the backyard swingset.

I also wonder what police do in bear-up-a-tree situations.  I suppose they could call the fire department, which is famous for deploying ladder trucks to rescue kittens from trees, but I don't think even the bravest firefighters would want to come to the aid of animals that weigh 200 to 400 pounds and have sharp teeth and powerful paws.  

The probable solution is to shoot treed bears with tranquilizer darts, causing the bears to fall out of the trees.  Maybe paramedics with great big stretchers conduct the tranquilized bears to veterinary hospitals for examination and treatment of their injuries.  Who knows?  

Bears, Bears Everywhere

The bear photo above was taken a couple weeks ago by a homeowner in the town next to ours, but, really, it could have come from anywhere in the state.

So far this year, there have been black bear sightings in all 21 New Jersey counties, more than ever before.  

New Jersey is said to be the most densely populated state in the union, and so the opportunity for human-bear interactions can be assumed to be rising apace.

What the Bears Want

There is no mystery why all the bears are coming out this month.  Spring is when mom and dad bears push young adults out of the family home (lair?) to make their ways on their own.

May and June are also mating season for adult bears who are searching for love, perhaps in all the wrong places.  

Plus the bears are hungry.  Unfortunately, New Jersey also has deer -- many, many, many deer -- who have consumed the entire vegetative understory of every wooded area in the state, as well as most of what used to be my garden.   

Hungry bears are flexible.  They are not interested in hunting deer, alas, but they are happy to eat dog food, human food, garbage, vegetable garden produce and small animals -- the sorts of menu items found in populated areas.  (And, let's not forget -- toddlers and family pets are small animals.)

So, increasingly, bears are attracted to the suburbs, and suburbanites are a little bit on edge.

Bear Management

Bears probably lived in my neighborhood when our town was established all those years ago.  At that point, bear hunting was legal and no doubt seen as a good idea.

By the middle of the last century, the ursine population had been hunted out; fewer than 100 black bears were left in New Jersey.  This was seen as too few bears.  The hunting was stopped.

Around 2010, state wildlife officials conceded that a new problem had developed:  too many black bears in the less-populated northwest areas of the state.  

An annual December hunting season (about 10 days, IIRC) was set for five years in four northwestern counties.  (Interestingly, December is part of hibernation season, when bears are harder to find.  Smart folks, those wildlife officials.)  

By the end of the last hunting season in December 2014, the black bear population had been reduced from 3,400 to more than 4,000.  Oh, wait.

 (That same year, a bear killed a hiker, the first recorded instance since 1852.)

Plus, other black bears had traveled to settle in every other corner of the state.

What to Do

Now the bears are everywhere.  The wildlife people are talking about an October hunting season, but nobody really knows what to do about suburban bears. 

(Remember, these are the guys who mismanaged the deer population to such a degree that many native plants have been eaten to extinction and hikers smother themselves in DEET for fear of Lyme disease.)

And there is resistance.

Every time there is a wildlife management meeting, animal-rights champions come out to suggest elaborate, expensive, totally unworkable schemes like birth control for deer.

At the last bear hunt meeting, I read, one of these persons suggested that there were other, better ways than hunting to manage the bear population.  

I was not there, but if I had been I would have jumped out of my seat and shouted, "Okay! Let's do it! How?"

Then I decided to calm down -- to think globally and act locally.

"Maybe we should get one of those bear-proof garbage cans," I suggested to the Significant Other.

"As long as the bear doesn't have a garage clicker, we don't need one," he said. "Besides, those cans cost more than $200."

"But what if the bear is smarter than the average bear?" I asked.  "All he'd have to do is drop by in the morning before the garbage truck comes.  Or he could walk through the screen door in the kitchen just before dinner."

The SO had no answer.

Neither do I.

1 comment:

  1. Laughing here. Bears-looking for love in all the wrong places. I though they were looking for pic a nic baskets.....