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NORTH ADAMS -- Black bears are popping up with increased frequency in local Dumpsters, rifling through trash cans and making meals out of backyard bird feeders as they hunt for food.
"There seems to be more sightings than usual this year," North Adams Police Director Michael Cozzaglio said Monday. "In talking with our animal control officer and with the state Department of Fisheries and Wildlife, it's believed that because we had a mild winter, the bears didn't hibernate and ate up most of their natural food sources throughout the winter. Now, with weather conditions being so dry, the growing season has been stunted and things aren't growing as well or as fast. They're hungry."
Another factor could be that the mild winter kept some animals from naturally expiring from the cold.
"I'm not an expert, but I do believe that with such a mild winter, many animals didn't pass away over the course of the winter," Adams Animal Control Officer Carrie Loholdt said Monday. "We've seen an increase in calls about all types of wildlife,
Both Adams and North Adams have seen increases in the volume of complaints about bears, which typically include the bears tearing apart trash cans or dining on bird seed in backyards.
"We do live in the woods, so it's not unusual for the bears to be around," Loholdt said. "Typically, if a bear comes around and doesn't find anything of interest, it will take off."
But the bears that find a food source will not only dine and dash; they'll come back on a regular basis to see if the source is still there.
"Normally if you take away the food source, the bears may come by and go through your yard, but once they can't find anything, they'll move along. They're looking for food; that's what's driving them," Cozzaglio said. "We're asking people not to put out the trash until it's going to be picked up; to seal their plastic trash cans; close their Dumpster lids; and bring the bird feeders indoors. We're also asking people not to put out water or food for the bears; it's doing more harm than good."
Although the city has seen an uptick in the number of bear complaints, he said that it's believed there are only three to four bears making the rounds.
"They have pretty big ranges and if you look at where the reports are coming from. A pattern develops," Cozzaglio said.
Primarily, reports have come from three or four sections of the city. Reports have included the campground, Kemp Avenue, McCann Technical School, South State, Old State, State and Walnut streets, as well as neighborhoods in the city's West End near the Harriman & West Airport and Greylock Elementary School and neighborhoods along Massachusetts Avenue.
"Our primary concern right now is for public safety," he said. "If you live in a rural part of the city and a bear is passing through your backyard, you don't need to call us. But if it's in the downtown or in a heavily populated residential area, we want to know about it. There have been instances where we've gone up and blasted our sirens as a way to shoo the bear along and scare it back into the woods."
Cozzaglio added, "I want to stress that people leave them alone. It's unusual to see bears, but we shouldn't be trying to draw them closer to take pictures. We recently had an instance where someone tried to pet a bear. That's foolish. These are wild animals, averaging at least 100 pounds or more each, and there's potential that if they feel confronted, they'll turn on you."
Keeping bears at bay
Tips to prevent bears from visiting your yard:
* Take in bird feeders containing suet or sunflowers seeds by April 1 and don't put them back out until Dec. 1. Attract birds by planting a flower garden, providing a dusting site or by maintaining nesting boxes or a bird bath.
* Do not leave pet food or dirty dishes outside.
* Store all garbage in closed containers in a secure garage or inside location.
* Do not leave garbage cans out overnight. Place garbage cans at curbside on the morning of trash collection.
* Do not place meat scraps, fruit remnants or sweet materials in your compost pile.