posted: April 30th, 2009 | by:Bert
©Bert Gildart: Two nights ago, about 2 a.m., Janie poked me from a deep sleep. “Something is out there,” she whispered.
Rising, I grabbed a flash light, opened the door and shined my light toward a large dark fury object that was munching on the tin cans now spilled from a garbage container.
The dark furry object was a black bear and it was only ten feet away (later measured.) The bear ignored me and if I’d been more awake, in retrospect, I should have grabbed my camera; instead, I hollered “scat!” The bear responded by doing just that, a reaction I expected from the summers of working in bear control in Glacier National Park.
But this was not Montana, this was New Jersey, and I later shared the experience with family members where we’re now parked. The conversation then turned to bears in general, providing several more local anecdotes and a general philosophy on bear behavior.
EMERGING FROM HIBERNATION
Across the nation, bears are emerging from hibernation, if they have not already done so. In Montana, I once photographed a bear in hibernation as late as March where winters can be exceptionally cold. But here in New Jersey the Connelly’s tell us they’ve seen bears roaming in the woods and sometimes around their rural home in virtually all months except January.
Still, they see them more often as spring progresses, and that jives with bear biology, which suggests that they’re particularly hungry in spring when they shake off the drowsiness of hibernation, whether it is associated with prolonged winter or simply the cold snaps associated with more eastern environs.
Because winters are less severe in New Jersey than in Montana and since this east coast state has the nation’s densest human population–and since bear populations in New Jersey are increasing dramatically, it’s not surprising anecdotes are many.
Kelsey, Cory and Kyle, Janie’s three grandchildren, shared a funny one that occurred at one of their soft ball games. According to Kelsey, who was participating in a school softball game, the evening crowd of parents watched as a large black bear began descending a knoll.
The response, they said, was funny. “Some people just watched, but others grabbed their kids and ran to their cars, screaming that a wild bear was there to eat them all.”
Most, however, stayed where they were and simply watched as the bear continued its descent and then wandered into another grove of trees, probably searching a new spot for more food. It was spring, after all, and if the bear had recently emerged from a winter sleep, then it was probably hungry.
More than likely that is part of the reason we had a bear just outside our trailer. The other reason is that bears are smart, and this one knows that every Monday morning the county collects garbage.
And, so, just like clockwork bears make their rounds, searching for food.
As it travels, it knocks over anything that even hints of a food odor, just as the can filled with recyclable cans. (Other raw garbage was in the garage, to be pushed to the rural road early in the morning.)
To reduce garbage spills and the possibility that bears may become habituated to people through the association of food, the New Jersey department of Fish and Game has a number of recommendations.
*if possible, keep garbage indoors until trash day
*don’t put food scraps in your compost pile
*collect fruit from trees once it is ripe
*thoroughly clean barbeques
*don’t feed your pets outdoors
Most of us enjoy watching wildlife, particularly bears, and if we want to continue seeing wildlife that is genuinely wild, these suggestions make sense.