DEM: As sightings increase, be 'bear aware'

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Black bear sightings have become increasingly common in Rhode Island in recent years – and the state’s Department of Environmental Management is asking residents to take precautions aimed at ensuring the animals do not become a more regular fixture in local neighborhoods.

The bears’ growing presence – which DEM says stems from rising populations in neighboring Connecticut and Massachusetts – gained renewed attention last week after a pair of close encounters in the town of Narragansett.

In a video submitted to WPRI, a black bear is seen roaming through a yard in Narragansett on May 27. The next day, the town’s animal control shared images on Facebook of a bear walking near – and peering into – a resident’s vehicle. The resident who took the pictures is said to have needed to secure herself in the vehicle and force its door closed as the bear attempted to open it.

The Narragansett encounters are just the latest to be reported this season. In late April, a black bear was seen in the area of Central Avenue in Johnston. In early May, a black bear was seen in a backyard off of Hill Farm Road in Coventry. Over the weekend, a bear was photographed in Charlestown. Bears have also been observed this year in East Greenwich and North Kingstown.

Cranston has been no stranger to bear sightings in recent years. In June 2016, a black bear was observed in the area of Pontiac Avenue, Mapleton Street and Forest Avenue. It was captured in Providence shortly thereafter. In June 2018, a number of bear sightings were reported in less than a week across the state, including in Cranston and Johnston.

In a statement, DEM advises residents that removing backyard food sources – such as bird feeders – is a key step in preventing black bears from becoming “nuisance animals.”

“There is no reason for a bear to be close to houses unless there is something to eat there," DEM wildlife biologist Charlie Brown said in the statement. “Almost every call we get is related to bears taking down bird feeders. Be sure to remove your bird feeders and other potential food sources from your yards.”

DEM believes the same bear is likely involved in each of the recent sightings, although it cannot confirm that is the case.

“Increasing bear populations in Connecticut and Massachusetts have led to more frequent sightings in Rhode Island – especially in rural areas of Providence, Kent, and Washington counties. As black bear populations continue to increase in neighboring states it is likely that the presence of bears in Rhode Island will become a more frequent occurrence,” the agency’s statement reads. “Black bears are generally shy and secretive, and usually fearful of humans; however, if they become dependent on backyard food sources they can lose their fear and become a nuisance. Intelligent and adaptable, they learn quickly and adjust to the presence of humans. They have a keen sense of smell and will investigate food odors; black bears may visit bird feeders, beehives, chicken coops, rabbit hutches, and compost piles in search of food. They are opportunists, and it is this feeding behavior that attracts them to residential areas. Once a bear finds an accessible food source, it may routinely return to the same site or similar sites to feed.”

DEM advises residents to remove bird feeders between the months of April and November; refrain from feeding pets outdoors; store birdseed, livestock feed and garbage in a building; put garbage out for collection on the morning of pickup and not the previous night; keep grills clean; and keep meat and sweet food scraps out of compost piles.

According to DEM, adult male black bears weigh between 150 and 450 pounds, while adult females weigh between 100 and 250 pounds.

Anyone who encounters a black bear is advised not to panic and to report the sighting to DEM’s Division of Law Enforcement at 222-3070.

“Bears are rarely aggressive toward people and will often leave on their own,” the agency’s statement reads. “After the bear leaves the area, food sources or any other item of attraction should be removed from the yard. Do not run away if you surprise a bear. Walk away slowly while facing the bear.”

DEM also reminds residents that black bears are protected animals and that it is illegal to intentionally feed or shoot them.

Additional information is available at dem.ri.gov.

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