NORTH SALEM, N.Y. - Tempting treats like birdseed, pet food and garbage bin leftovers have become a buffet for bears in recent weeks.
“Bears are incredibly lazy and just want a quick and easy meal,” said Emily Carrollo, a wildlife technician for the state Department of Environmental Conservation.
Here in the northeastern part of the county, where the woodsy terrain is more bear friendly, sightings aren’t that unusual. May through July are the height of the critters’ activities, as young bears that have been kicked out by mama are seeking new territory in which to settle down and raise a few cubs of their own.
North Salem residents reported seeing a bear, which Supervisor Warren Lucas has nicknamed “Lucky,” roaming around Hilltop Drive last week.
There was another sighting on Hardscrabble Road after one homeowner’s bird feeder was raided.
“Keep Lucky lucky...If he becomes a pest, we will have to figure out how to get rid of him. Do not approach Lucky. Lucky is not a pet,” Lucas warned Thursday, July 16, on NorthSalemNYinfo, a Facebook page he administers.
On July 6, its scat—the scientific name for animal droppings—was found on Daniel Road in Croton Falls. A day later, a bear was spotted relaxing in someone’s yard on Westview Avenue not that far away, Lucas said.
Two cubs were captured on video as they frolicked on June Road. Raymond Road residents saw a bigger bruin strolling toward Mountain Lakes Park. Fields Lane and Lakeview Road have had furry visitors, as well, judging by the “presents” they left behind.
According to Carrollo, who works with the DEC’s Region 3 bear program out of New Paltz, an adult male bear can weigh between 150 and 660 pounds; a female, between 100 and 200 pounds. They measure about 3 feet tall (at the shoulder) and live about 20 to 25 years, although they can occasionally reach the ripe old age of 40.
Females have a home range of between 10 and 20 miles; males can roam up to 100.
In the summer, they are constantly on the move, looking for food. June and July is peak breeding season, Carrollo said.
While their natural diet consists berries, seeds, insects like ants and grubs and wild greens (skunk cabbage is a favorite snack), they will eat carrion (dead animals) and, occasionally, live prey.
But the bear’s goal is to pack in as many calories with the least amount of effort, she said.
That’s where humans come in. Not as lunch on the hoof, but the ones that inadvertently ring the dinner bell by leaving garbage and birdseed around. Anything that smells good (to a bear) will attract them.
There are 2.2 million people living in the seven counties in the DEC’s Region 3. It offers great habitats for bears, which prefer forested areas where they can hide from their biggest predators—us. In 2014, the last time data was available, there were 1,800 to 2,800 bears recorded in Region 3.
While Westchester is not considered primary bear territory, its more woodsy northern parts are more suited for animal activity.
That doesn’t mean they’re settling down. They’re more likely to just be passing through, Carrollo said Wednesday, July 15.
There are four levels of human-animal conflict that the DEC has to consider before it will decide to remove a pesky bruin. The least serious—which seems to be the case in North Salem—is just “observation.” The bear is seen running across a road, sitting in a yard or hanging out on a hiking trail.
It can ratchet up from there to midnight raids on a bird feeder to close encounters with humans and pets to actual bruin burglaries. Breaking into a garage or shed is not as serious as trying to get into a house occupied by people or attacking livestock such as chickens, goats and sheep.
Once the bear knows where the chow line is, it’s hard to get rid of it.
That’s why, Carrollo insists, it’s crucial to get ahead of the situation before it gets serious.
Usually, if a bear has a good escape route, it will move along of its own volition. But sometimes, especially in a urban landscape, it could be corralled by traffic or crowded by curious humans, and have no way to escape.
The first concern is for public safety and the safety of the DEC folks who may have to trap the wayward animal, she said.
But the best conflict management tools are proactive, namely community education.
Do not feed them. Do not let them get “comfortable” around humans.
Hazing them—from a safe distance—is one good way to do this. Air horns are cheap and easy to carry. There are also heat and motion sensors that detect unwanted guests and let loose with very loud and unpleasant sounds.
“Be a good neigh-bear; don’t be nice,” Carrollo advised.
A great source of information about living “responsibly” with black bears is, she said, the website www.bearwise.org. You can also visit www.dec.ny.gov/animals.