Michelle Gillett: Living with bears



The dog's bark was high pitched and insistent. "It must be the bear," I said, and got out of bed and hurried down the stairs. The dog and I peered out the glass doors. There he was, walking across the patio, disappointed no doubt that no bird feeder was hanging nearby.

The last time he had looked, a long plastic cylinder holding a couple of inches of thistle dangled from an iron pole that had been easy to pull to the ground. He had enjoyed that amusé bouche before continuing on his way to the rest of his meal.

We are on the bear's route which must cover about a six mile radius, typical for a bear's range. The next day, I told a friend who lives a mile from my house about the bear's visit. "He was in my yard too," she said. "The next-door neighbors neglected to secure the top of their garbage." She rolled her eyes.

I knew the rest of his route would include part of Main Street and the golf course and then some of Glendale Middle Road before he ambled home. As thrilled as I was to see the bear, I was glad I had stopped filling my birdfeeder in early April despite the snow still on the ground. Birdseed is like candy to bears.

I don't know how many bears live in Stockbridge, but I do know that however many there are, they are shy and smart and not dangerous. I also know they need to eat a lot. By midsummer, bears start eating up to 20,000 calories a day as they fatten up for their winter hibernation, according to the North American Bear Center.

I imagine the bear's circuit through my neighborhood is like my journey through the Big Y. I know what aisle the canned goods are in, where the cheeses are -- just as the bear knows who leaves their garbage unlatched, who fills their feeders all summer, who only closes the screen door when they go out. Many of us feed bears unintentionally. I knew I had left my feeder out a little longer than I should have. Sometimes, my husband forgets to close the grill or to bring in the tuna or salmon smeared grill utensils. Once I didn't hook the bungee chord to the garbage handle. I had a lot of strewn garbage on my front lawn the next day.

Sharing my community with bears is fine with me. But bears can become a nuisance when we don't honor the boundaries that allow us to have a peaceful coexistence. There are ways to eliminate bears from their range and prevent their return to our neighborhoods. This means not putting out feeders during the late spring and summer no matter how much we love to see birds flocking to our gardens. It means finding out what is attracting a bear to our yards in the first place, and removing any food from open compost bins, as well as securing our garbage when we put it out. It means closing windows and doors when we leave the house. It definitely means not feeding them intentionally.

While some people think shooting bears is the best way to eliminate the "nuisance" bears, the department of Environ mental Conservation recommends euthanizing a bear as a last resort, and only if it becomes a threat to human safety.

Sarah Miller wrote a piece for The New Yorker's" Shouts and Murmurs" column in January, called "The Bears of Lake Tahoe's Town Meeting" after she read an article in The Wall Street Journal about Incline Village by Lake Tahoe where bears were wreaking havoc -- "the bears' attraction to garbage was the crux of the problem, the residents agreed. But they were divided over both the proposed long-term solution -- a mandate to use more-expensive bear-proof garbage containers -- and whether to handle their burly neighbors with tough love or lethal force."

At the bears' town meeting, one of the bears, Fat Arlene, suggests somehow letting "the community know that there was no excuse for misunderstanding bears, as what they wanted was to sleep and to lick the insides of discarded frosting cans. A motion was made to deliver this message to the community."

Michelle Gillett is a regular Eagle contributor.


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