Number of bear-related complaints to Maine Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife by year between Jan. 1 and July 3:
2008 - 261
2009 - 338
2010 - 292
2011 - 252
2012 - 542
What to do if you encounter a bear:
1. Make lots of noise to scare it off
2. Turn on outside lights before going outside after dark
3. Do not corner a bear. Back away from the bear in order to provide an escape route as cornered bears are more likely to charge
4. Keep garbage and outbuilding doors closed and secured
5. Always photograph bears from a safe location. Do not attempt to move closer for a better shot.
6. Bears in trees will stay in tress if people are present. If you encounter a bear in a tree, back away and the bear will climb down and run for cover.
All information provided by Maine Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife.
Bear reports across Maine more than doubled this past spring compared to last year. Between Jan. 1 and July 3, the Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife received 542 bear-related complaints — up 290 from last year for the same period — which saw just 252 complaints.
"This year's early spring has led to an increase in bear conflicts," said Jennifer Vachon, a black bear biologist with the department.
Newry Fire Chief Bruce Pierce and his neighbors were among those whose backyards were recently ransacked by one of the pesky 250-pound animals. Pierce, who lives on Sunday River Road, left home early Tuesday morning to battle a blaze in Rumford only to return at about 6:30 a.m. and find a bear caught in a trap outside his home.
"I didn't expect anything. I figured I left the trap open and if it happened, it happened. If it didn't, it didn't," Pierce said.
Pierce and his neighbors moved the trap around the area for weeks in hopes of catching the bear. He baited it one last time and was actually awaiting Maine Game Wardens to pick it up sometime last week.
The bear was first encountered at Outward Bound across the road from his home a few weeks ago where it broke into a recycling building and later went after food tied up in a tree. Pierce said the bear then made its way across the road into his pig pen before heading across the road to homes along Monkey Brook Road.
Tuesday's trapping was one of several this past spring and early summer, according to Maine Game Warden Scott Stevens. Reggie Hammond, a game warden from the Rangeley region, added that some homeowners have even shot problem bears.
"They're seeking out Dumpsters and easy food sources," Stevens said. "The biggest problem is that winter ended early and the bears came out of their dens early. They've been out a long time now without their natural food sources."
Hammond said in his 10 years as a warden, this is the most bear-related complaints he has handled. This year, alone, he dealt more than 25 nuisance bear complaints, and at least 75 percent of the bears trapped and relocated from the area have been bears with ear tags or collars out of New Hampshire.
"We've had a lot of bears in the past, but we've certainly not had this many," Hammond said.
In response to the sharp increase, the department is urging residents to take some simple precautions to avoid attracting bears. Vachon said the most common backyard attractions for hungry bears are birdseed feeders, pet foods, grills and garbage.
On average, the number of bear-related conflicts are lower because winter most often extends later into the year and bears emerge from their dens closer to the time berries begin to ripen. But due to this year's shorter winter, bears were out long before the berries.
And backyards became easy marks for quick, tasty meals, according to Vachon and Stevens. Officials expect the number of bear-related encounters to decrease now that berries are coming into season.
"Our goal is to prevent bears from being comfortable finding food in people's backyards by advising residents to remove bear attractants," Vachon said. "A bear on a porch or deck is alarming but often occurs because there are food items there."
Vachon points out that bear attacks are relatively uncommon, but warns that bears comfortable finding food in backyards and communities could become more bold and more dangerous to humans. She urged neighbors and communities to work together to remove major attractors.
In addition to removing bird feeders, Vachon recommends putting trash out the morning of pick-up instead of the night before and securing trash in a building. Don't overfill garbage dumpsters and keep the lids closed and latched at all times.
As far as backyard barbecue season, Vachon recommends storing grills indoors when not in use and making sure to burn off any excess food residue, dispose of wrappers and clean the area.
Hammond added that another helpful preventative tip he has been instructing homeowners to do is to soak rags in ammonia and hang them near problem areas. He said because a their sense of smell is so sensitive, that the odor will in many instances drive bears away.
"A bear that is surprised or a bear that becomes dependent on human sources of food and becomes bolder in their search for food can be potentially dangerous," Vachon said. "Homeowners can prevent this situation from occurring by following our recommendations to remove bear attractants in their backyards."