Fencing no obstacle for bridge-bound bear in Stockbridge

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STOCKBRIDGE — It was a COVID-19-related stakeout with results that went viral.

Town police recently set up a surveillance camera at the entry to a footbridge to catch the miscreant that repeatedly had destroyed fencing meant to keep people off the hiking trails during the height of the pandemic.

On Sunday, they had their suspect. But, charges won’t be filed.

“It was a bear,” said Sgt. Kirk Nichols. “We thought, ‘That solves a lot of our problems. I think we’re done here.’ ”

The black bear simply wanted to cross the bridge, Nichols said. He has a video of it doing just that after ripping down the plastic fencing. Town workers had placed it, along with a barrier and caution tape, at the entrance to the Goodrich Memorial footbridge at the end of Park Street.

The span over the Housatonic River leads to trails through a glacial ravine known as Ice Glen, the Mary V. Flynn trail, as well as Laura’s Tower, from the top of which one can see more than 50 miles to the west and north on a clear day. The trails are now open.

On Facebook, Nichols had posted a photo of the bear caught red-handed on its hind legs.

“Venice had dolphins in the canals, Adelaide had kangaroos in the streets ... Stockbridge has bears on a bridge,” he wrote.

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The bear’s crimes drew cheers on Facebook from a crowd fed up with what they say are lockdown absurdities that prevent people from going into the wilderness when they are desperate to stay healthy.

“Why an outdoor trail is closed for these reasons is so ludicrous even the bears are fighting back,” wrote one commenter.

Another said it was perfect fodder for “a new Arlo Guthrie song,” a nod to the singer/songwriter whose arrest for littering in Stockbridge led to the iconic "Alice's Restaurant Massacree."

Andrew Madden, western district supervisor at the state Division of Fisheries and Wildlife, said bears have travel pathways, and the Stockbridge bear likely uses this one to move about for breeding and food sources in town.

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“I’m not surprised he wants to cross the bridge rather than swim in the river,” Madden said. “They like the path of least resistance — he’s probably been crossing that bridge for years.”

Madden says there are a few reasons why bear sightings and encounters appear more frequent in the past week or so. Bears move around more as they get ready to breed toward the end of June and into July, he said. And young bears are being set off on their own.

Also, there’s a gap in the timing of their food source. The greenery is past its prime, but the berries and other crops aren’t out yet.

Also, Madden says there are simply more people in the Berkshires right now, since many have been weathering the pandemic in their seasonal homes.

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He reminded residents to rethink bird feeders and carefully manage their garbage.

“If a bear gets rewarded once or twice, then it learns,” he said.

A bear can grow habituated and lose its fear of humans, something that led a man to shoot a bear dead in Housatonic in 2018. The bear grew aggressive when the man tried to shoo him away from a dumpster. An investigation found that a resident in the village had been regularly buying the bear woodpecker mix and laying it out in his bird feeder. Madden noted that there are other bear feeders living in South County.

Like the agency, Nichols said police get quite a few calls about bear encounters. He said to move bears along, they recommend yelling, honking car horns, sounding key fob alarms or banging on pots and pans.

Madden said that the noise makes bears uncomfortable enough that they’ll remember it and bypass the area in future.

Nichols said police don’t know which of the town’s many bears was responsible for the fence fiasco, but he said he wants the animals to remain wild and respected.

“We’re lucky that we have them."

Heather Bellow can be reached at hbellow@berkshireeagle.com or on Twitter @BE_hbellow and 413-329-6871.


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