Just what you didn’t need during this time of sheltering in place and restricted social activity: Another ravenous mouth to feed.
That has been the case in eastern Maine, though, as black bears have begun to emerge from their dens and make general hogs of themselves.
Of course, the return of the bears is nothing new. Bears emerge from their dens each spring and begin looking for food. And with nothing edible growing on the landscape, they start looking for easy (human-produced) targets like birdseed and household garbage that has been stored outside.
While it might seem early for bear complaints, this is about the time that nuisance bears begin to show up each year, said Wildlife biologist Jennifer Vashon of the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife.
Vashon said that by April 1, most Maine bears have emerged from their dens and begun to forage.
“On average, we receive about 30 calls in April, it bumps up to about 100 calls in May and by June doubles to around 200 calls,” Vashon said. “In a poor food year, we can have as many as 800 calls by fall and when natural foods are abundant we can have as few as 400 calls annually.”
The warmer weather and lack of snow in central and southern Maine has also contributed to early bear activity, she said.
“In early springs, like we are experiencing this year, calls do typically start earlier and we can experience a higher call volume as well,” Vashon said. “Like most years, once things start to green up and berries start to ripen, conflicts begin to subside. ”
Luckily, there may be some “leftovers” for bears to munch on early this year.
“Last year was a really good year for beechnuts and acorn production, so this could help avoid some conflicts as bears are able to find overwintered nut crops until things green up,” Vashon said.
A Maine game warden, Chris Dye, said that bears had also begun to show up in Belfast, Swanville, Frankfort and Prospect.
“The bears are out moving, and everyone’s still feeding birds,” Dyer said on Friday. “Now they’re all surprised that the bears are showing up.”
As bears come out of their dens, there’s not good natural food available, like beechnuts, Dyer said.
“So the next best thing is black oil sunflower seeds [that people put in bird feeders],” Dyer said.
Bears have been spotted eating from bird feeders in that town. The department said homeowners should remove the food that’s attracting the bears in order to stop those unwanted visits, according to a Facebook post from the Hampden Police Department on Thursday morning.
And while it may seem early for such activity, if Hampden and Belfast are having problems, your town is probably next on the list. So here’s what you ought to do — or avoid doing — according to the DIF&W.
— Secure garbage and recycling: Food and food odors attract bears, so don’t encourage them with easily available food, liquids or garbage. Store garbage cans inside until the morning of trash pickup. Keep dumpster lids closed at all times and schedule frequent pickup so dumpsters do not overflow creating easy access to food.
— Remove and store bird feeders: Birdseed and grains have lots of calories, so they’re very attractive to bears. Removing feeders is the best way to avoid damage to your feeders and property. Rake up any seed from the ground and store bird feeders and bird seed inside. Even an empty bird feeder can be enticing to a bear and they will tear it down, damage or destroy it. You can continue to feed birds in the winter when bears are not active.
— Never leave pet food outdoors: Feed pets indoors when possible. If you must feed pets outside, feed in single portions and remove food and bowls after feeding. Store pet food inside where bears can’t see or smell it.
— Clean and store your grill: Clean grills after each use and make sure that all grease, fat and food particles are removed. Store clean grills and smokers in a secure building to keep bears out.
— If you see bears in the area or evidence of bear activity, tell your neighbors and share information with them on how to avoid bear conflicts.
And Mainers may want to begin making their property less attractive to bears this weekend.
“This weekend looks like a good weekend for spring yard work, so I would encourage people to add raking up any birdseed left on the ground, moving bird feeders, bird seed and garbage in a secure building,” Vashon said. “It is also a good time to repair any broken windows to prevent bears access to buildings where garbage, grills, pet/livestock feed are stored. And if you have small livestock, keep them in at night.”