On The Ridge with Joe Judd: Bad news bears

Published: 7/26/2023 2:30:50 PM

You ever heard the phrase ‘fat bear week?’ Well, if you haven’t, it’s a reference to a week during the summer when black bears start getting serious about fattening up for the winter, and in Massachusetts that week is fast approaching!

It seems like every year during this period in July, and turning the corner into August, black bear alerts start streaming in from all over the Commonwealth, and this year, from as far away as Cape Cod and the South Shore in greater numbers than ever before. According to published reports, this summer has seen black bears roaming around in Arlington, Carver, Fall River, Lexington, Newton, Plymouth, Quincy and Taunton. And with significant increases in black bear numbers reported statewide, it’s important for all residents to be reminded of how to prevent problems with potential encounters, even those living in the far northwestern corners of Massachusetts who have been coexisting with bears for years. It’s important not to get complacent when there’s a chance of dealing with black bear encounters on a regular basis. Reports thus far in 2023 have the black bear population in Massachusetts to be over 5,000 with an anticipated 8-percent increase expected for the summer of 2024. That’s certainly a far cry from the population in Massachusetts during the 1970’s which was estimated at under 100 statewide.

All that said, the black bear range continues to expand eastward toward the most densely populated communities in the state. And with bear sightings increasing in the east, people are asking themselves, “How dangerous are bears?” “Is it normal to see a bear around our house or in our neighborhood?” And the ever-present question, “What do I do if I encounter one?”

Well, my advice would be to take a deep breath, try to relax, and start educating yourself, now, regarding some precautionary measures you can take to avoid the possibility of negative encounters with bears in the future. I know in Western Massachusetts, we’ve heard these things many times, but it’s still good to revisit it again, especially right now with the chances greater than ever that you might be staring down the snout of a black bear sometime this summer.

The first thing to remember is that this is mating season for black bears… right now. So it’s not difficult to conclude that many of them are simply looking for love in all the wrong places — which could be in a city or town on the South Shore, the Cape, or right here near you. Another precaution is to encourage your neighbors to avoid food sources that a bear can easily get access to. This includes bird feeders, which I know is a tough sell for many, but is necessary for keeping bears out of areas where they don’t belong. This also means storing all garbage in containers and inside the garage or garden shed if possible. And keep meats scrapes, or sweet and oily materials out of the compost pile as this is a major attraction for any bruin worth its weight in donuts. And if you have pets, I strongly encourage you not to leave pet food outside as well.

I believe that very soon now, another question will surface in eastern Massachusetts that will have an even broader effect on the South Shore and Cape Cod region as time goes on. “How do we manage this explosive population of black bears in the east?” It’s a question that’s been kicked around by the entire Massachusetts Sportsmen’s Council for decades now. A few years back, an article written by outdoor journalist Jim Behnke appeared in the MassWildlife quarterly magazine. In that article Jim commented, “A critical part of managing the black bear population will be hunting,” which is a prolific statement if there ever was one and highlights the need to cautiously expand the hunting range and season for black bears as time goes on, especially as they vigorously continue to expand in the most populous parts of the state.

But for now, the key precaution is to avoid offering up food sources that bears can easily access, because once a bear finds one, it will continue to return until the source is removed, secured, or totally depleted. Also, as the black bear population continues to grow, tallying greater numbers than ever before in the east, the potential risks of conflict with people will increase, as bears are naturally curious animals and will explore suburban areas taking advantage of whatever suits them. And I predict that as their numbers grow, perhaps in some of the most affluent locations in the state, the cries of “there goes the neighborhood” will be heard from our eastern neighbors all the way up to the steps of Beacon Hill.

Joe Judd is a lifelong hunter and sportsman. He is an outdoor writer, seminar speaker, member of the New England Outdoor Writers Association, and a 2019 inductee into the N.E. Turkey Hunting Hall of Fame. Joe is also on the Quaker Boy Game Calls and Bass Pro Shops/Cabela’s Pro-Staff.


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