As a Naturalist/ethologist I am compelled to keep on speaking out on behalf of Maine’s Black bears because they are so misunderstood. A person has a million to one chance of being killed by a black bear. We are 32,000 times more likely to be murdered by another human. Black bears are primarily vegetarians. Black bears are maligned thanks to certain individuals, special interest groups like the NRA and state fish and wildlife agencies who are interested in perpetuating the myth of the nuisance or “killer bear” to foster their own agenda.

In reality, Black bears are extremely shy, intelligent animals that outperform chimps in many tests of learning. They have navigational abilities that defy scientific understanding. During hibernation Black bears are capable of healing themselves of life threatening wounds and are able to re-cycle toxic bodily waste without damage to muscle tissue. Black bears co-evolved with trees as a prey animal. Black bears cannot live in areas where trees do not provide them with adequate protection.

Black bears are very nervous animals who convey their fear by moaning, slapping the ground, huffing, blowing, or in extreme cases, false charging when surprised or approached by humans. If we want to co –exist with bears we need to learn their language – all they are asking is that we give them some space. We also need to re- interpret bear behavior in terms of their fear and not our own. Understanding a bear’s fear helps a person to re- evaluate what appears to be threatening/aggressive behavior. A “nuisance bear” is a hungry bear and most human-bear conflicts occur late in the spring and early summer after bears have emerged from their dens in April/May.

Initially, these animals are sluggish and have no appetites. Their hunger returns after metabolism returns to normal in about three to four weeks. After ingesting tender grasses they search out bulbs, corms, ants and larvae as they wait for the first berries to ripen. The 40 – 70 pound adolescents are most vulnerable during this period. After their second spring Black bear mothers leave them to mate. The young are searching for territories, are immensely curious as well as being hungry and this is when they are likely to visit backyards for a snack. Sometimes adult bears do too.

I am always astonished when people complain about bears destroying feeders when the solution is obvious: take bird feeders in during late spring and early summer, especially at night. Well documented research by bear biologists (www.bear.org) reveals that given a preference, Black bears will choose natural foods over birdseed/garbage as long as it is available. There is a brief period during spring/summer when natural food is scarce. It’s worth repeating: if you don’t want bears in your backyard, take bird feeders in.

With an exploding human population, we are taking over the forests these animals have lived on in peace for millennia. Why can’t we learn to share resources without taking measures to destroy these iconic denizens of our forests? In Ely, Minnesota for example, supplemental feeding keeps bears from visiting backyard feeders and reduces nuisance bear complaints to almost zero. However, in areas like Minnesota, people choose to co–exist with bears, and don’t insist that wild animals conform to human expectations. Maine is fortunate to have a stable black bear population, one that attracts many visitors – hunters among them – Why couldn’t we choose to do the same?


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