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Posted: 3/14/2006 5:06:07 AM EDT
Coming to a crawlspace near you.....


At left, a mother bear and her cub found in their den near a farmhouse. At right, Dave Fuller of the state Division of Fisheries and Wildlife prepared last week in Northampton to place a black bear cub back in its den, after biologists changed the radio collar on its mother. (Mark Wilson/ Globe Staff)


Bears in the 'burbs
They leave woods to live under porches, in yards

By Carolyn Y. Johnson, Globe Staff | March 13, 2006

NORTHAMPTON -- The pickup truck rolled past quiet cul-de-sacs and wooded yards, an H-shaped antenna poking out the window like a parasol as state wildlife biologist Dave Fuller waited for a hit. He was looking for bears.

The truck passed some likely bear haunts: a sugar maple stump a few feet from a house where Fuller said a female bear was sleeping; the yard on Ladyslipper Lane where a bear killed a dog two years ago; a house on Route 66 with a crawl space under the front steps, from which Fuller and other biologists evicted a bear late last month.

But Fuller was looking for a particular black bear Thursday, one that had been fitted with a radio tracking device. The bear, which had been caught napping under several Northampton porches, was ''on the move." But on Thursday, the animal eluded him.

Increasingly often, wildlife officials using tracking devices to find black bears fitted with radio collars find themselves not in the wild woods, but in town, in pursuit of a new and troubling natural phenomenon: the suburban bear.

''It seems as though they're hitting the cul-de-sacs," said Ralph Taylor, manager of the state's Connecticut Valley Wildlife District, who has evicted several bears from Northampton-area houses. ''Once they learn to go under porches, they don't stop. . . . Once bears get a taste of [this life], they have memories like elephants."

In the past, it was not unusual to see a bear raid a trash bin or wander into civilization in the search for new territory, as a young male bear did in Westwood last summer. But the new suburban bears are moving into the neighborhood to stay. They make their dens under decks. They gorge themselves on garbage and birdseed. They are not afraid of people.

Five radio-collared bears -- two adults and three 2-year-olds -- roam or sleep in Northampton neighborhoods, and are adopting new behaviors.

''They'll watch you out of one corner of their eye while they eat your birdseed," Taylor said. With a steady food supply all winter, suburban bears stay active rather than hibernating to conserve energy. Instead of the 10-square-mile territory a bear roams in the wild, female bears in the 'burbs stay within a 2-square-mile range, where they can hit up to 2,000 homes. And, like their human counterparts, they're getting ''very fat, like a butterball," in Taylor's words.

Run-ins with fatter, less timid wildlife are common in the state, where 40 acres of open space are developed each day, according to a 2003 Massachusetts Audubon Society report. The myth, state biologists say, is that the animals are being driven out of their natural habitat and into backyards. The reality? Opportunistic squirrels, deer, coyote, raccoons -- and bears -- are, in fact, attracted to the buffet of tasty shrubs, pet food, and compost piles that people serve up in their yards. Such nuisance bears may damage property and injure people or pets. Biologists are also concerned that people will eventually grow intolerant of the beasts and demand that they be killed and removed. Biologists are trying to persuade people not to leave food that attracts bears.

''When you think about these animals, you typically associate them with undeveloped areas -- wide-open spaces, deep forests. But they are very adaptable to the habitat that we have left in a very densely populated state like Massachusetts," said Bill Davis, state wildlife district manager for Central Massachusetts, where bears are colonizing parts of towns such as Ashburnham and Winchendon, and cities such as Worcester. ''Your first perception is how can they live here? But they're making a good living."

On Thursday, biologists crept up a hillside in Northampton to a spot about 40 yards from a house. Wisps of smoke curled up from the chimney. Trucks and cars rattled over potholes on the road below. But under a tangle of old stumps, shrubs, and roots, a 200-pound black bear was sleeping serenely with her 6-week-old cub.

The team sedated the bear and wrested a shivering, feisty 7 1/2-pound female with tiny paws and sharp claws from the den. The cub nestled against the warm bodies of volunteers while the biologists gently pulled the mother bear from the den, dusted off her dark, coarse pelt, and fitted her with a radio collar. They pushed the mother back into the den, making a pillow of hemlock boughs for her head, returned the cub, and left.

Until state wildlife officials told him, the homeowner had no idea the bears were there.

As the bears move into the suburbs, their numbers in Massachusetts have swelled from about 500 in the early 1980s to 3,000 today, said state wildlife biologist James Cardoza, who has been tracking radio-collared black bears in Western Massachusetts for two decades. In order to understand how suburban living affects basic bear biology, Cardoza follows the bears around -- often finding them in houses and yards, where they may live for months -- unnoticed.

In the short term, Cardoza says, the bears may thrive. But the trouble is that the bears may begin with the bird feeder, then start knocking over trashcans, then clamber onto a porch or tear its way into a house. Sometimes, a homeowner will complain about a scratching noise under their house or see tracks and bear droppings nearby. But most often, people find out by phone that they are sharing their homes with a bear.

Margaret Miller, a psychologist who lives on Westhampton Road in Florence, said that when wildlife officials called her in January to tell her there was a bear with a radio collar under her porch, she was incredulous. ''I absolutely said, 'You're wrong,' " she recalled.

But she soon realized that she could see the round of the bear's back and its ears from a basement window that looked into the crawl space between the first floor and the ground. The bear had built a nest of sticks and housing insulation. The bear stayed there a month. The family has since covering the opening with plywood.

For now, the run-ins may have a kind of charm to them, but wildlife officials are worried. ''The thing that's scary about suburban bears is they're close to people," Fuller said. ''Food is available, and with more houses, more bears."

Carolyn Y. Johnson can be reached at cjohnson@globe.com.
Link Posted: 3/14/2006 6:11:40 AM EDT
Geez! Look at the size of the claws on that cub!
Link Posted: 3/14/2006 6:17:27 AM EDT

Originally Posted By xinflt:
Geez! Look at the size of the claws on that cub!



you should see the claws on my ferrets.

looks like I know where I'm taking my bow this spring.
Link Posted: 3/14/2006 6:19:21 AM EDT
I want the baby as a pet.


He won't get too big.





- BG
Link Posted: 3/14/2006 6:23:17 AM EDT
Bears are all over. The past 2 years we've had black bear sitings all over town. A 17 yr old boy was mauled by a bear a few towns from here. Fortunity he fought it off. Get between a Sow and her cub and your in deep trouble!
Link Posted: 3/14/2006 6:23:49 AM EDT
We've had 2 bear chases this year already....city & county guys, Air unit (no shit) and terrified citizens calling us to tell us where the bear is. Yes, thanks, we know. We're following it in the helicopter.

Never ceases to baffle the shit out of me.

I like 'em. Cute lil guys. Tasty too.



BC
Link Posted: 3/14/2006 6:26:47 AM EDT



Hold my bear and watch this.
Link Posted: 3/14/2006 6:30:12 AM EDT
How cute...

Wonder when the first little kid playing outside is going to get attacked?

Link Posted: 3/14/2006 6:50:00 AM EDT
Just down the road from me. (next town over.) not surprised, we have a huge population since they cut back on how we can hunt the bears. (banned hunting dogs for bears a few years back) (even training the dogs) And most folks don't believe they are around.

Folks are actively feeding the bears too, how stupid can you get? Thanks disney..
There have also been cases allready where bears have gone into houses through doors, both glass and screen.
Link Posted: 3/14/2006 6:57:23 AM EDT

Originally Posted By Wildweasel:
Just down the road from me. (next town over.) not surprised, we have a huge population since they cut back on how we can hunt the bears. (banned hunting dogs for bears a few years back) (even training the dogs) And most folks don't believe they are around.

Folks are actively feeding the bears too, how stupid can you get? Thanks disney..
There have also been cases allready where bears have gone into houses through doors, both glass and screen.



Can a bear-injured homeowner sue Disney?
Link Posted: 3/14/2006 7:02:17 AM EDT
Yes, it bothers me as we have a bunch of don't kill the animals type people around here. Between the coyotes, bears and the rabid animals. We've been very fortunate some little kid or elderly person hasn't been bitten, mauled or killed.
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