Early summer is normally a busy time for bear sightings, but this year some people are seeing more bears than usual. There are several reasons bears roam around in June, but only two reasons bear sightings in your area may be on the rise.
Reason #1: There are more people in bear country. The pandemic accelerated one trend that was already well underway: people moving out of cities and urban centers in search of a better quality of life. On top of that, the number one destination for getting away from the pandemic has become national and state parks, campgrounds and all things outdoors.
Bears can’t get away from it all; they must find ways to adapt to more people in their backyard. If a bear denned up in the woods last winter and woke up next to a housing development this spring, people notice when it lumbers off through the neighborhood in search of quieter quarters. Or worst case scenario, doesn’t lumber off, because it discovers that people aren’t all bad; they seem to have brought an endless and dependable food supply with them.
Reason #2: Tech is everywhere. Today more people have smart home security systems and doorbells linked to cameras that record everyone and everything walking by 24/7. And more people working from home means someone is always watching. Even a decade ago bears could wander through mostly unnoticed; today the bears that trudge through neighborhoods trying to get from here to there wind up on YouTube with their own Facebook pages and Instagram accounts.
Where are the bears going?
Most bears spotted in unlikely or unusual places in June fall into three categories:
Juvenile male bears that denned up with their moms last winter and got booted out this spring. No matter how big and furry they look, these bears are about 18 months old and are just trying to figure out how to live on their own. Juvenile males need to disperse and find a place to call home where they can find food, shelter and eventually a mate. Juvenile female bears, however, are often allowed to move in next door to their moms, so most wandering bears are males.
These young bears are often lonely and lack the fully developed survival skills of an adult bear. They are also hungry and inquisitive and will check out anything that seems as if it might be a source of food. Like human teenagers, they are at a very impressionable stage of life. If they quickly discover that human places should be avoided, they will be forced to learn to support themselves as wild bears. If they find the backyard pickings are easy, they start down a road that is often a dead end for them.
Adult male bears are roaming far and wide in search of a mate. Both male and female bears may mate several times in early summer; in fact, it’s not unusual for cubs from a single litter to each have a different father. But female bears rarely leave their home ranges; for the good of the gene pool, they let the males come find them. So adult male bears may travel long distances through various females’ home ranges.
New moms have lots of mouths to feed. Mother bears may have between one and six cubs depending on her for their survival. Natural spring and early summer food sources such as grasses and developing plants are just not as calorie-dense and nutritious as the nuts and fruits that ripen later in the year. So mother bears often need to travel further from their dens looking for food. Cubs take after their parents in several ways: they are super-smart, learn quickly and are very adaptable. So if mom teaches them to raid the garbage or bat down bird feeders or sends them in through pet doors to see what’s in the kitchen, it creates a whole new generation of problems for people and bears.
What you can do:
Be extra-vigilant at this extra-critical time. Follow the At-Home BearWise Basics and make sure there’s nothing around your property or home that will attract bears.
If you do see a wandering bear, enjoy this special sight but please don’t turn into bear-arazzi and contribute to a media circus that can create problems where none existed. Don’t approach bears or feed bears or call all your neighbors to come watch. If the bear is headed to a safe space (for bears) just leave it alone. If you’re worried it’s at risk because it’s wandering through an urban neighborhood, call your state wildlife agency. And then make sure you and your neighbors have no unsecured food sources, pet food, birdseed or other attractants that would tempt it to hang around.
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