At the Westford Conservation Trust’s recent yearly meeting, Sue Ingalls of the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife stopped by to provide some tips for residents living in communities that are populated by bears, like Westford is now.
You can see the entire presentation on the Westford CAT website, here’s a few highlights.
· The only bears in Massachusetts are black bears. Male black bears average 230 lbs., females average approximately 140 lbs. Adult males are solitary and tend to have distinct 120 sq. mile ranges. Female bears have 9 to 10 sq. mile ranges that may overlap with those male ranges.
· Black bears are scavengers and enjoy things like nuts, berries, corn, and bee larvae (they only eat honey if it’s on the way to the larvae.) They don’t mind human food if they can get it though.
· Bears actually don’t fully hibernate, although their core temperature decreases. They do tend to try and stay in dens and sleep frequently in winter, but they retain consciousness and they will go out and feed if it makes sense to do so. Some bears don’t den at all during the winter, most pregnant ones do, but they’ll wait if they are taking care of cubs.
· The average birthday for a bear is somewhere between December and February. The average baby bear is 8 to 10 ounces, and there are one to one to four cubs per litter.
· After a year with their mother, the mother begins to get aggressive with their cubs around June, forcing them to head out on their own, although female cubs are tolerated more within a home range.
· Bears were once common in New England, then almost disappeared by the 1860s before returning by the 1960s in Western New England. The western part of Massachusetts has reached its saturation point with bears.
· There are hunting seasons in September and November, but too few bears are killed per year (an average of 185) to have hunting been seen as a population management tool. The key methods to hunt large scale numbers of bears, like foot traps, are banned under state law.
· In more suburban areas, bears have been known to cross interstate highways at times. They are good swimmers and one swam across the Cape Cod Canal in recent years.
· Electric fences can help keep away bears from prime feeding opportunities like apiaries (bee hive farms). Cleaning grills and keeping garbage indoors is also an effective way to keep away bears as well as avoiding the use of birdfeeders, which Ingalls said was like “fast food” for birds and had negative nutritional impacts to birds comparable to the average negative nutritional impacts for humans at fast food restaurants.
· When in the woods, bears can be scared away by bold aggressive body language. Bears generally do not want anything to do with people unless they believe interaction will provide food. Bears that are afraid of people will be more active during the night.
· Male bears will fight during mating season.
· The more often female bears give birth, the larger their litters will be.
· While coyotes may attack cubs, bears have no natural predators other than humans.