On the Ridge: Farmers & Wildlife

  • Recorder outdoor columnist Joe Judd is asking landowners to remain vigilant about bears. CONTRIBUTED/TOM MINER

Published: 4/29/2020 4:53:11 PM

I wager that black bears have been raiding cornfields since the crop was first cultivated in this country. In records kept by early European settlers, bear and deer were damaging corn in great quantities even in the late 1600s. By the early 1700s, bounties were established in different regions of North America to encourage their removal from areas used for agricultural purposes.

In Massachusetts, bear and deer populations have been increasing for over 30 years with the statewide population of bears now estimated at over 5,000 animals, and whitetail deer numbers are closing in on 100,000. Stable populations of deer and bear now live and breed in almost every sector of the state. Worcester and northern Middlesex counties have had an explosion of deer, and a growing population of black bears, and biologists will tell you that female black bears living in eastern Massachusetts will mate and raise young just like anywhere else in New England. They all have to eat.

Their diets consist mainly of plant habitat but will also include farm crops when available. Adult bears will typically weigh between 100-300 pounds, but males can even exceed 500 pounds.

Adult whitetail deer can easily range over 200 pounds. Deer are active all year long while a black bear will eventually have the need to den. Both animals will try to consume as much food as possible to take on extra fat before winter. Around this time is usually when farm crops are really beginning to kick in like corn, beehives, apples, peaches, and sunflowers. Being opportunists, both bear and deer will take advantage of any of these, or other, food sources available to them. But when it becomes a threat to people’s livelihood, a problem exists. And that’s where the Massachusetts Sportsmen’s Council comes in.

The Council has been working to help farmers with this issue for many years. Attempts are now being made to arrange a meeting with the Massachusetts Fisheries and Wildlife Board to discuss bear and deer crop damage in Massachusetts. They need your help to obtain this meeting and present a full overview of the problem, however. The Sportsmen’s Council is requesting information on damages from both individuals and farms (individual name or farm name, and location, is required).

Filling out a short survey will help determine crop damage caused by both bear and deer, which hopefully will assist in finding better management strategies to deter them and help mitigate damages. The Sportsmen Council has determined that there is a need, not only for effective ways to develop better management solutions for agricultural producers, but also a better way to help with financial assistance when severe deer or bear crop damage does occur, leaving a grower in an unstable financial situation.

A farmer friend of mine recently told me, “I’ve had so much crop damage — we’ve been farming since the 1960s and I have never seen it this bad. My farm, and other farms around me, seem to be polluted with deer, but other property owners won’t allow hunting, with some even buying doe tags, so no one else will get them!”

Another farmer in Middlesex County chimed in that, “our problem here is the wooded/urban tracts around farms acting as cover for deer when the hunting seasons start. They get educated fast, which makes controlling the numbers almost impossible! Farmers work hard, and simply don’t want to be sharing crops with bear and deer. It takes time out of our busy schedules and money out of our pockets.”

And when you hear stories like this, you begin to understand that farmers really do need help, especially if populations in their areas continue to grow.

Explosions in wildlife populations have caused much of this. Farmers have become less tolerant of wildlife damaging crops than in past years. Profit margins are much tighter today, making a living becomes harder. Guys like Don Graves and Ronny Gleason are out there listening to what farmers have to say. And they will tell you that farmers alone cannot find a way to fix it. Donnie will also tell you that, “we need to be sure that farmers are taking advantage of the programs that are offered by the state and possibly other sources, which is a big reason why the MA Sportsmen Council is involved.”

If you’re anticipating, or now suffering from, property damage caused by bear and deer, contact the nearest MassWildlife District Office right away. Biologists will provide you with advice that can lessen the problem. You can also get in touch with MA Sportsmen Council, Subcommittee Chairman, Don Graves at jadeskunk@gmail.com. He will get you the information necessary to get an application in your hands. He can also be contacted with questions at 413-530-1108. He will be looking for 2018 and 2019 crop damage assessments.

Finally, under certain circumstances, landowners, tenants, members of their immediate families, or persons permanently employed by them may take a bear caught in the act of damaging their property. Bears taken in this manner must immediately be reported to the Environmental Police at 1-800-632-8075.

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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