Bears are on the prowl across the Northeast, searching for scarce natural food as a result of the drought and running into people at places ranging from restaurants near Mount Washington to backyards on Cape Cod to within 100 miles of the Capital Beltway.

The story is the same in Maine, where the number of bear-human conflicts has nearly doubled this year, according to the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife.

Having more bears on the move is good news for hunters who took to the state’s woods and fields Monday for the season’s opening day. They have a better chance of bagging one.

“There is a lot of opportunity for bear,” said state bear biologist Jennifer Vashon. “The drought means natural food is low. And our bear season is really tied to the natural food crop.”

Maine has an estimated black bear population of 31,000, and it’s growing, Vashon said. A lack of hunter participation and smaller harvests in recent years are some of the reasons for the increase, according to biologists.

IFW has had more than 700 bear nuisance calls so far this year, compared with an average of 400 over the past five years, Vashon said. She attributed some of the increase to the region’s early spring, which brought bears out of dens a month early, before the usual food supply was available.

It’s a familiar problem throughout the region.

In Massachusetts, bears have been climbing onto porches as they migrate from the Berkshire Mountains to the southeastern part of the state. This summer, one bruin navigated all the way to Provincetown on Cape Cod.

“We’re experiencing a higher volume than normal of bear calls,” said Massachusetts bear biologist Laura Conlee. “There are increasing calls of bears using Dumpsters, coming into homes. . . . The one that wandered onto Cape Cod, it certainly caused a lot of excitement.”

In Maryland’s Allegany and Garrett counties, just 100 miles from Baltimore, bears have gained access to as many as eight homes.

 

“Early in the spring when the bears came out of their dens and there was no food available, I know we saw a few more serious encounters than in normal years,” said Maryland bear biologist Harry Spiker.

In New Hampshire, state fish and game officials reported a clear increase in bear conflicts, including lost livestock.

“The free-range chickens and chickens behind flimsy enclosures were a problem. The bears are targeting the grain, but then they decide a chicken tastes good as well,” said Rob Calvert, New Hampshire’s wildlife damage specialist.

 

Calvert said the nuisance bear calls around the White Mountains started a month earlier this year, and didn’t let up.

“The bear activity has been pretty significant. At one point, we had one bear up north that broke into 50 cars, including a conservation officer’s,” said New Hampshire fish and game spokeswoman Jane Vachon.

In Maine, meanwhile, visitors to Baxter State Park were warned about the need to be bear smart. Park rangers even rented canisters to help campers store food to minimize black bear problems.

Still, one nuisance bruin that hung around the Daicey Pond campground got too familiar with picnic table leftovers. Jensen Bissell, the park’s director, said some visitors who failed to comply with the safe-bear practices were evicted from the park.

Bissell noted that workers at Baxter have an obligation to protect wildlife even as they work to enhance the enjoyment of campers.

 

“The last 15 years, the park has been very quiet as far as bears,” he said. “But I think we let our guard down. We decided this year to maintain good behavior toward bears, toward the wild creatures. Our mission is to protect wildlife. When we have to fuss with bears, we look at it as a failure. Bears belong here.”

Staff Writer Deirdre Fleming can be contacted at 791-6452 or at:

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