Maine Wildlife

Bears in Wiscasset, oh my!

Mon, 06/17/2013 - 5:00pm

    Most visitors to Wiscasset wear clothes and spend money; but not the ones spotted in local neighborhoods the week of June 10.

    They were black bears, seen off and on for days around bird feeders, on decks, or just heading into the woods.

    At least one made it onto Facebook.

    It is unknown how many bears were in town, but there were at least three. An adult and two cubs were seen together, Wiscasset Police Chief Troy Cline said. Other sightings were of one bear at a time.

    The bears' appearance in local yards surprised homeowners interviewed; however, it is not cause for alarm, said regional wildlife biologist Keel Kemper of Maine's Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Department.

    The species' Midcoast population appears to be up this year, Kemper said; but people who have seen one will greatly cut their chances of continued visits if the bear stops finding grub there.

    “If you eliminate the food source, in 99 percent of the cases you eliminate the problem,” Kemper said June 13. “Do things that attract them and they show themselves.” Bears are fairly discreet and not anxious to be seen, he said.

    To reduce a property's appeal, put away the bird feeders, keep those grills clean, including burning off residue and don't toss vegetables or other food into the bushes or onto an open compost pile, the biologist advised.

    Birdseed is a major attractant for bears, because it's high in fat and protein, Kemper said; as for the compost, he recommended an enclosed system such as a barrel that requires turning, rather than a three-sided box.

    There has been no new field count of the region's bear population, but an increase in sightings generally results from increased numbers, the biologist said. In addition to the Wiscasset sightings, bears have also been reported seen in Alna and Jefferson.

    Kemper typically hears of fewer than five sightings in this region from spring through fall. He's already aware of a couple dozen this year, he said.

    “There's no question Midcoastal Maine appears to be having an upcycle of bears,” Kemper said.

    No observers interviewed in Wiscasset described any aggressive behaviors. That's consistent with the reports police and Wiscasset Animal Control Officer Marla Blagden were getting.

    One sighting occurred on Willow Lane June 10, Cline said. Blagden said she got a call from a Bradford Road resident June 11 about a bear running across a lawn and into the woods.

    On June 13, Cheryl and Bill Thayer, along with daughter Chelsey Thayer, 16, watched as one sniffed their four-wheelers and stood up to snack at the bird feeder outside their home on Mossy Drive.

    “He got right up on his hind legs and was licking the feed out,” Cheryl Thayer said June 14.  The bear walked onto their deck and headed for the grill, but, perhaps disturbed by Chelsey's picture-taking, it stepped back off the deck and slowly headed for the woods.

    The Thayers' sighting was one of numerous ones that day. Wiscasset Middle School teacher Warren Cossette had just returned to his Gibbs Road home and was still in his vehicle when a bear walked across the driveway.

    Betsy Morse of Foye Road was cooking dinner when husband Paul Morse looked outside and saw a bear.

    “I was excited,” Betsy Morse said. “We all came to the window and watched it.” It came and went twice from their yard, she said.

    For the last few weeks, something had been getting into Morse's bird feeders. Something also tore off a piece of her lilac tree near a feeder on her deck; and something bit off a piece of a Dial soap bar she had at a feeder to keep squirrels away.

    After seeing the bear, Morse took down all the feeders and put them away in the garage. “I don't want him around,” she said.

    Also June 13, Charlotte Charest of Foye Road watched as one just sat near her flower bed, looking around.

    “It just makes you feel like you're not safe in your own dooryard,” Charest said about seeing the bear.

    Chief Cline and Kemper the biologist said people shouldn't be afraid to go outside, however. If a resident sees one, Cline recommends they go inside and call his department so an officer can check it out.

    “We generally don't get overly alarmed. We do have bears in the state of Maine,” Cline said. “In general, they're more afraid of you than you are of them.”

    Kemper concurred that bears don't go looking to interact with people. He reiterated that removing food sources removes a bear's reason to be around a home.

    The state prefers to disturb wildlife as little as possible, and will only seek to relocate a bear if necessary. If someone is concerned, Kemper recommends a call to the Maine State Police, which handles calls for game wardens.

    Susan Johns can be reached at 207-844-4633 or sjohns@wiscassetnewspaper.com.