Recreation

When in Bear Country, Stay Bear Aware

By Marcia Anderson

As a former Scout leader I’ve spent a lot of time in places visited by black bears. I often taught bear-safe practices. As Scouts, my daughter and sons learned about bears at an early age and continue to put into practice prevention lessons they learned.

Adult black bear Photo: Pam McIlhenny, fws.gov

Adult black bear
Photo: Pam McIlhenny, fws.gov

Today, I educate schools and communities about preventing pests through Integrated Pest Management, a sensible and sustainable approach to controlling pests. The main principle is prevention. Every pest needs food, water and a safe harbor to survive. If one of these is denied, the pest will no longer thrive and will move on. So yes, just think of bears as very big pests.

As bear populations increase and more people live and recreate in areas occupied by bears, human-bear conflicts also increase. Most of these conflicts are caused by our lack of knowledge.

Bears have made a comeback throughout New England. although Maine has the largest bear population, the American black bear, the largest predator in the Northeast, rose more dramatically in Massachusetts, where the numbers of native bears grew nine-fold since 1980s, from a few hundred to more than 4,500.

If you live in, or visit bear country here are a few things you should keep in mind.

As I said, pest management includes removing whatever attract pests – in this case, food for bears. Garbage is the biggest offender Bears can smell food from more than a mile away. They travel great distances to track down smells, crossing roads and bridges and placing themselves and people at risk.

Bears will eat just about anything they deem to be nutritious. The calories a bear can consume by picking through garbage can surpass the forage they can find in nature. Problems arise when bears have access to food sources such as garbage, barbecue grills, pet food, or bird seed. Normally, black bears are too shy to risk contact with humans, but their need to find food can overwhelm this fear.

Once a bear finds a food source, such as school dumpsters or neighborhood garbage cans, it will continue to forage until the food is removed. It may take weeks for the bear to understand the food source is no longer available. Once a bear is dependent on human food, its chances of survival are reduced.

If your school, home, or business is in an area that attracts bears, build a shed to protect your garbage cans or secure garbage in a bear-resistant containers. Tightly tie all bagged garbage and keep lids closed to reduce odors.

Teach your children to respect, not fear bears. Black bears are typically not aggressive and usually flee when confronted. Make a plan identifying safe areas, noting clear escape routes for the bear, and collecting noise-making items to scare off the bear.

After a bear visit, look around to see what might have attracted it.

BearBlog2If you live in or work in bear country, encourage surrounding neighbors and your local government, to pass ordinances to keep potential bear food sources secure. It is illegal in many states to place food or garbage out that attracts bears and causes conflicts.

Feed pets indoors or bring in dishes after feeding. Remove bird feeders from late spring through early fall and when they are up, empty them nightly. Keep outdoor grills clean and stored securely. Keep areas under fruit trees clean. Better yet, if you don’t want bears, don’t plant fruit trees! Compost also attracts bears so don’t keep compost in unsecured areas.

If you live in bear country, adopt preventative measures that will help you and the bears avoid unwanted encounters. For more visit the National Park Service bear safety webpage.

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Marcia Anderson, who has a doctorate in environmental management, works with EPA’s headquarters on issues related to pest management in schools. She formerly worked in pesticides for EPA Region 2 and has a home in Lyman, Maine.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Boast Your Coast!

Displays and Booths at Walnut PlazaJust because you don’t live anywhere close to beachfront property doesn’t mean you’re not a coastal resident! In fact, if you live near and/or between Philadelphia and the northeast corner of Pennsylvania, then most likely your everyday actions have a huge impact on the closest coastal region. Why? Because you are directly connected to the Delaware Estuary, which stretches from Trenton, New Jersey, south to Cape May, New Jersey and Cape Henlopen, Delaware.  Estuaries are areas partially surrounded by land where rivers meet the sea. The Delaware Estuary ecosystem is fed by the Delaware River and its tributaries which includes all of the Delaware Bay. Inhabitants of the area rely on the estuary for drinking water, industry and recreational activities. As do all estuaries, it posseses many habitats suitable for vast amounts of plants and animals and is the birthplace of many different kinds of wildlife.

There are millions of people who live in the Delaware River Basin which includes parts of New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware. The activities of those millions have an effect on the quality of water in the estuary. For this reason, the Partnership for the Delaware Estuary, Inc. held the 2010 Pennsylvania Coast Day on September 13th. This day of family fun boasted ferries, schooners, and other kinds of sea transportation. For those who were prone to sea-sickness, there were over 20 booths and displays at Penn’s Landing in Philadelphia, educating child and adult alike.

You can bet that representatives from EPA Region 3’s Water Protection Division were there to do just that. With many fun-filled activities, including a Water Wheel of Questions, Region 3 employees shared the importance of water conservation and keeping our streams clean. Responses from one question on the water wheel really surprised us. “How long is your normal shower?” While it is recommended that you try to keep it to 10 minutes or less, many participants said they take 15 to 30 minute showers! That got us to wonder how many other people take an extended time in the shower. How long do you take? Let us know or tell us how you make an effort to conserve water around your home. And if you were at the event and visited our display, do you have any suggestions for activities or issues we could incorporate at EPA’s booth for Coast Day 2011?

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.