STATE — Across the state, hungry bears are in search of food and have been ravaging through dumpsters, bird feeders, trash cans and even grills to find it.
In fact, in comparison to last year, the number of bear complaints has more than doubled this spring, according to the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife.
Sergeant Dave Chabot, of the Maine Warden Service, said that as of July 16, there were 612 bear complaints statewide. That's more than double the 280 complaints that were reported in 2011. In 2010, there were 322 complaints, said Chabot.
"Bear complaints are definitely on the rise," he said.
Doug Rafferty, director of public information and education for DIF&W, said a few weeks ago that, within a two-week span, 542 complaints had risen to 600 complaints.
Just a few days later, Chabot reported another 12 complaints.
Reasons for rise
Rafferty said that the rise in complaints is due to the warmer weather.
It also has to do with homeowners being ignorant about cleaning up their trash or storing away their food, said Chabot.
"If people would only clean up their trash," he said, the number of complaints wouldn't be so high. "A lot of this pertains to trash – people are just taking their trash and leaving it outside.
"People aren't taking care of their stuff."
But many of the complaints, said Rafferty and Chabot, involve bird feeders.
"They are probably one of the biggest culprits," said Chabot. He said come spring time, people should be taking in their bird feeders. Especially in this part of the state, he said, bears have learned to target neighborhoods with bird feeders.
"With the early spring we had, the bears came out of hibernation earlier," explained Rafferty.
"When they come out of hibernation and they are hungry, they are going to be looking for food."
Rafferty pointed out that it will still be another two to three weeks "before berries and nuts and everything that bears eat in the woods, start getting ripe" – so until then, they will be searching for food elsewhere.
"Bird feeders, backyard barbecue grills, garbage cans, you name it," said Rafferty. "They are going to be there, if they get a whiff of it."
"Bears are omnivores," Chabot warns. "They will eat anything."
Another problem the Warden Service has discovered, he said, is that there is always that one person in a neighborhood "that thinks it's cool to feed the bear," so they leave out their bird feeders on purpose.
"It annoys all the other neighbors, because then they have to put up with the bear," he said. "People need to learn to act a little bit more responsible."
While Chabot couldn't report on the number of complaints pertaining to Oxford County, he said that bears have definitely caused a disturbance in the area.
"They are everywhere," said Chabot of the bears. "It's pretty rampant, to say the least."
"Oxford County definitely has it's share [of complaints]," he said, listing Norway, Paris, Oxford, Newry, Lovell, Harrison, Waterford and Bethel.
"I think if you picked a town in Oxford County, you could probably say there was at least one bear complaint there," he said. "It's been that far spread."
Because of the increase, DIF&W offers tips on how to best avoid conflicts with bears.
"If you don't corner it, or bother it," said Rafferty, "the bear will go about his business, and go back where he came from." In other words, by backing away from the bear, it gives it an escape route – if a bear is cornered, it may get angry and charge, he said.
"It doesn't matter if it's a bear, deer or a Blue Jay," added Chabot. "If you don't give the animal space, it's going to protect itself."
But Chabot said that people do not have the right to kill bears, just because they are intruding.
After all, he said, "it's never a bear problem. It's a people problem. People have to take care of their trash, their grills, or their bird feeders."
So, first and foremost, Chabot recommends that bird feeders, garbage or other attractants be removed from the property, or at least be made inaccessible.
"People can't just leave a barrel of pig slop outside and expect the bear not to go and eat it," he said.
"If there is no food source there, you are not going to have a bear," he said.
He also recommends that any bird seed be raked up from the ground, and to store the unused seed in a secured building. Trash, and grills that have been scraped clean of any food residue, should also be stored away securely when not in use.
If you encounter a bear, DIF&W suggests staying in a safe location at a distance. In order to scare it off, make loud noises by shouting or by banging together pots and pans.