MONTPELIER – As incidents of bears breaking into homes, garages, sheds and vehicles in Vermont increase, so too should efforts by residents to bear-proof their homes and secure potential outdoor food sources that can attract bears.
While searching for food in early July, one bear broke into a Killington home through an open window, and another Killington bear entered the Northstar Lodge through an open door. A Pownal woman awoke to the sound of a bear breaking through a kitchen window to access a honey comb that had been left within reach, while a similar incident occurred in Townsend where a bear broke into a kitchen freezer.
According to Vermont State Game Warden Sgt. Chad Barrett, bears don’t naturally break into homes. They must first have had experience receiving food from humans. The process of habituation begins with attractants that residents leave out such as birdseed, pet food, or unsecured garbage.
“When bears get into garbage, pet food, beehives, and birdfeeders without any consequences, their behavior escalates as they lose fear of humans and begin to cause more damage,” said Barrett. “Once a bear is conditioned to associate people with food, little can be done to fix the problem. Relocating bears is ineffective. Bears that have been lured into a neighborhood by one careless resident quickly become a problem for the entire community.”
Some bears have also taken to entering cars in search of food, including a bear in Warren this past week that became trapped in a car. To protect human safety, Barrett ultimately had to shoot the bear, which is the unfortunate result of many of these cases.
While nobody was harmed in any of these incidents in Vermont, a New Hampshire woman was badly injured when a bear entered her home early on the morning of July 17.
If a bear enters a home, Barrett urges people to get to a safe place and call 911. If a bear is near the house or is attempting to make entry, he recommends people make as much noise as they can to scare it off.
In addition to removing birdfeeders and securing garbage, Barrett recommends residents avoid giving bears an easy entrance by locking doors and shutting downstairs windows at night. Motion-activated lights and alarms can also be used to deter bears that wander too close to homes.
The Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department is asking the public to report all bear conflicts to the department’s website. Reporting an incident helps track problem areas and allows wardens or biologists to advise residents on ways to mitigate the problem. Residents are reminded that it is now illegal to feed bears in Vermont, even unintentionally.
“Black bears naturally search for food. That behavior will not change,” Barrett said. “It’s the people’s responsibility to keep human food inaccessible, so that bears remain healthy and wild.”