The Westerly Sun
CHARLESTOWN — A young male black bear caused a stir in South County over the weekend, showing up in South Kingstown and then moving into Charlestown, where it was still still being monitored on Monday morning.
Charlestown Police Chief Michael Paliotta said his officers had received numerous calls from residents who reported seeing the bear in their neighborhoods. Police and officers from the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management tracked the bear as it moved quickly through the town.
“Our police department has been working closely with members of RIDEM to keep track of the bear’s movements and document any incidences that might cause concern,” he said. “The young bear was sighted in the Old Coach Road area on Sunday, June 2nd, and in the Lewis Trail area of town on Monday morning, June 3rd. Thus far none of the bear sightings have been problematic, and the black bear appears to be moving steadily westward into more wooded areas of the state. It appears the bear recently moved into our area after having traveled through the towns of Narragansett and South Kingstown.”
DEM spokesman Michael Healey said the bear is probably the same animal that was first seen last week in Narragansett.
“DEM thinks the male black bear that was seen in Narragansett and, as of yesterday and today, seen in Charlestown, is the same animal, but we can’t be certain,” he said. “The reason is, bears are smart, adaptable, and highly mobile animals, and males particularly have a large home range of 12 to 60 square miles and travel long distances.
“We believe this bear is an itinerant individual — a juvenile male that was kicked out of its den (which is normal) in the last year or two, doesn’t have a home range, and is just following its nose to easily available food of which some of the easiest to be found is the seed in bird feeders.”
Young male bears head out on their own this time of year, searching for new territories as well as food, and sightings have become increasingly common in Rhode Island over the past few years. DEM spokesman Michael Healey said Rhode Island is now believed to have its own small population of bears.
“Until recently, DEM thought that the black bears spotted in Rhode Island were transients from Connecticut, which has a population of around 800 bears, according to the (Connecticut) Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, or Massachusetts, whose population is estimated at more than 4,500 animals, according to MassWildlife,” he said. “Within the last two to three years, though, we believe several bears have established themselves in Rhode Island with an overall population of five to 10 individuals.”
Healy explained that DEM officers were tracking the bear because it is frequenting populated areas. That lack of fear of humans, he said, meant that officers would have to take a series of measures known as “hazing” to scare the bear away from people.
“The reason DEM’s Division of Fish and Wildlife and Division of Law Enforcement are tracking the bear and working to educate local police departments and animal control officers is because the bear is frequenting populated areas, going into backyards and onto decks, and is not intimidated by human presence,” he said. “This is a problem that requires hazing, which means the use of deterrents to move an animal out of an area or to discourage an undesirable activity. Hazing entails using negative stimuli — shooting with rubber bullets, pepper spray, loud noises — to cause pain, avoidance, or irritation in an animal engaged in an unwanted behavior. The bear learns to associate the undesirable behavior with a negative experience, and thus will be more likely to avoid conflict in the future. Tranquilization, immobilization, and relocation would be the last steps to be taken.”
DEM biologist Charlie Brown pleaded with residents to remove their bird feeders so they would not entice the bear and further acclimate it to humans, a situation that almost always ends badly for the bear.
“There is no reason for a bear to be close to houses unless there is something to eat there,” Brown said. “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.”
If the bear poses a danger to humans, Healy said, it will be euthanized, but only as a very last resort.
“If a bear becomes a threat to human life at any point, though, it must be euthanized,” he said. “Situations requiring euthanization include a bear that shows aggressive behavior to humans, a bear that has entered a dwelling or business, a bear that has killed pets or livestock, or one that has been seriously injured. It would sadden us very much to have to take that step, and we would only take if it were absolutely essential.”
Paliotta asked Charlestown residents to remove bird feeders and keep pets indoors while the bear remains in the area. He also warned residents not to attempt to approach the bear.
“Outdoor food sources such as bird feeders, pet foods and trash cans often attract bears and other wild animals,” he said. “Therefore, we recommend these food sources be removed to a safe location in order to limit the likelihood of attracting a black bear. We also recommend that no attempts are made to approach a black bear or impede it from its natural course of travel. House pets should be kept indoors until the bear leaves the immediate area to limit the likelihood of interaction.
“In the event that the bear enters a heavily populated area, enters onto someone’s deck or attempts to enter any building or structure, police should be contacted and will respond along with RIDEM and will take the appropriate action.”
The Charlestown Police Department has uploaded an educational flyer provided by RIDEM to the department’s Facebook page.
Information on how to coexist with bears is available on the DEM’s website at http://www.dem.ri.gov/news/2012/pr/1025121.htm.