A Magazine About Food, Art & Exchange In Midtown Kingston, Published By The Hudson Valley Current.

Living With The Ursine

They Say a Fed Bear is a Dead Bear               

By Harry Matthews

    Ursus americanus americanus, otherwise known as the eastern black bear, is our local subspecies of the widespread American ursine. As many of us live within its range of habitation it is inevitable that there will be sightings, run-ins, and potentially conflicts between us and them. And, as I believe, most of us feel honored to exist peaceably with this most noble of creatures—some of our lot may sadly fit into the sub category of Homo sapien known as americanus ignoramus. One of the possible traits of this sub-genus is to stumble through life not caring about the world you live in, how you might impact the wildlife you share it with, and generally relying on the outmoded attitude that this is our world and everything else better get out of the way.

    In my often not so humble opinion this group would include, in no particular order; litterers, trophy hunters (and I have no issue with those hunting for food), greedy corporate CEOs, polluters, haters, hurters, predators, etc…

    The majority of us, though far from perfect, want to live in a world where nature abounds, where water is clean and air is clear and breathable. We want fish in our streams, birds in our trees, and wildlife in general to be healthy, happy, and abundant. But with this wish comes a responsibility on our part that in all reality takes little effort to accomplish.

    Where I live, in the shadow of the eastern escarpment of the Catskills, nestled snugly between the mountains and the river, bears are regular and welcome neighbors who, if treated with respect and awareness, pose no threat to anyone or anything around. When we first moved here we did what the woman we bought the house from did: left the garbage can out at the end of the driveway. And on an alarmingly regular basis we would wake up in the morning to find the garbage strewn throughout the woods, which we would then painstakingly clean up and re-bag.

    One morning I was standing by the road, thankful that the can had not been raided that night, when a medium sized bear walked right past me, rose up on his hind legs, and went for the garbage. Not quite knowing what to do I crossed the road and banged loudly on our mailbox in a vain attempt to scare him off. He didn’t move and only dug deeper into the can. I picked up a small rock and threw it near him trying to scare him off, also to no avail. Taking better aim, I threw another small rock, this time hitting him on the thigh, and finally he moved off into the underbrush.

    Following this close call I began to try a number of methods to deter the now regularly returning bear. First I would pour bleach over the garbage, then ammonia, then tie on ratchet straps to lock it down. Nothing worked. The last thing I did, which in retrospect I can’t believe I didn’t think of sooner, was to lock the garbage in the garage. And immediately the attacks stopped. But we weren’t done with the bears quite yet.

    Being avid birders, a few years ago (and a few years after “solving” our bear issue) my partner and I began putting out a number of feeders around our deck. Against most of our  friends’ and neighbors’ advice we left them out not just through the winter but all year long. And last spring, on one of the first mild nights of the year, we were visited by a mother and three cubs. Not only did they destroy the three feeders but they also smashed flower pots, broke a bench and knocked over a table causing much alarm to my partner, who courageously yelled, banged pots and pans, and eventually dragged furniture in front of the door to keep them from coming in the house. And I slept soundly through it all upstairs. The bears eventually moved off and in the morning, after much clean up, we determined that we needed to bring the feeders in at night.

    Since then, with the exception of some random visits—an occasional scat in the yard or driveway—we have been “problem-bear” free. We learned our lessons and adjusted our lifestyle accordingly. Sadly, some in our local communities seem to have not learned these same simple lessons. Even in the peaceful town of Woodstock this year a mother bear had to be put down by the DEC due to people being too lazy to amend their habits to keep bears at bay and not attracted by an easy meal.

    As the old saying goes, “A fed bear is a dead bear.” And that is just too heartbreaking for words, when in the end the fix is quite blindingly easy. Keep your garbage locked up, bring in your bird feeders at night, never feed a bear—and stand up to do your part to keep these beautiful and majestic creatures alive, safe, and ultimately wild!