MONTPELIER — Experts say this year, black bears will still be black bears but populations will be slightly more stabilized. However, people should still be vigilant about their bird feeders and compost piles, especially new Vermonters: Experts at the Department of Fish & Wildlife say they’ve received an elevated number of phone calls about black bears from new Vermonters.
Forrest Hammond, a wildlife biologist with the Department of Fish & Wildlife, said calls about bears were very high last year, which may have also been connected to more people working from home amid the COVID-19 pandemic and storing more food at home, as well as improperly storing compost.
“There were more calls about bears that seemed more naive,” he said. “They were more concerned about their own safety and if they could let their kids go outside anymore.”
Hammond said that Vermont was experiencing an early spring, causing bears to leave their dens earlier. Because of that, he anticipates more calls about bears in yards, driveways and roadways.
Hammond advised caution regarding compost piles, bird feeders and trash bins, as last year was a notably hard year for natural food for bears and he anticipates another one this year.
In lieu of natural foods like blueberries and raspberries, Hammond anticipates that bears would be seeking trash and compost of municipal residents. He said that several bears had notably already been making their presence known in Bellows Falls and St. Johnsbury.
“If people were visited by a bear last year, they should be extra vigilant,” Hammond said. “Bears have good memories. If they’ve been to a place where they can find food, they will likely be back.”
In terms of deterrents, experts advise that efforts need not be as extreme as many have thought. As far as bears go, repellants can be as simple as your everyday paintball gun, a cowbell rung while shouting or other widely available noisemakers.
“I’ve heard of fire extinguishers being used,” Hammond said. “Chances are, if a bear hears you making noise or trying to scare him off, he’s going to run.”
Hammond said while more bear hunting permits had been issued last year — 24% more — and he anticipates a dip in the bear population as a result, that the bear population is easily manageable with the use of the bear hunting season, which ranges from September to November. He said he doesn’t anticipate a drastic increase or decrease in Vermont’s bear population.
“Hunters are important to managing our bear population, and while last year was a high year regarding bear harvests, I don’t anticipate it permanently affecting the population of Vermont’s wildlife,” Hammond said.