Wildlife officials say people can discourage bears

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(Host) Fish and Wildlife officials say they’ve had a large number of calls about black bears this summer. The bears are raiding compost piles and destroying bird feeders in search of food. Officials say in some cases, people aren’t doing enough to discourage the bears and it may be time to change the law that permits landowners to shoot nuisance bears.

VPR’s Steve Zind reports.

(Zind) Three factors are contributing to increasing backyard encounters between black bears and people. First, the bear population is increasing. Second, the human population is spreading out. Third:

(Tom Decker) “Just different practices that people either intentionally or unintentionally are doing that make their property attractive to bears. Things like feeding birds in the summertime. Compost piles, pet food outside.”

(Zind) Tom Decker is a state wildlife biologist. Decker says this year his department has had over 250 reports about backyard bears. Wildlife officials say the solution is simple: Take down bird feeders in the summer, and remove other bear dining opportunities.

Instead of taking those steps, Decker is concerned that people are simply shooting the bears. Landowners have killed 16 bears this year, and they’re within their rights. The law states simply that a person may kill a bear in defense of their property. Fish and Wildlife Commissioner Wayne Laroche thinks the law makes it too easy to shoot bears.

(Laroche) “It’s probably stretching it a little bit to think that we should just be providing an attraction for bears without taking any precautionary measures to make sure the bears don’t cause any damage, and then just killing them because they respond naturally to the attraction.”

(Zind) Laroche thinks the law should be more specific about the circumstances that justify shooting a bear, and require people to take precautionary measures before they kill a bear. He thinks the Legislature will consider changes when lawmakers return to Montpelier.

(Laroche) “I suspect that it will. I am aware that people in the Legislature are looking at the issue now.”

(Zind) Wildlife officials say if problems with bears persist, Vermonters could decide there are simply too many of them. Tom Decker says the state is scheduled to revisit its bear plan in 2006.

(Decker) “The question really ultimately for Vermont is more of a cultural carrying capacity – how many bears do you want to have here and deal with. It’s not one of biological capacity or how many bears can the forest hold in Vermont. That number is probably very, very large.”

(Zind) Decker says there are about 3,500 bears in Vermont. The number increases about 5% annually.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Steve Zind.

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