According to the DEC, there’s been a spike in nuisance bear complaints within northeastern New York this year: about 330 calls received in total. Although some of those calls occurred along the park border, most reportedly came from within the Adirondack Park. So what should you do to keep your property or campsite safe? Read on for the guidelines you should be keeping in mind.
Bears on the Rise
What’s bringing the bears out of their natural habitats? The DEC says a dry spring and summer are to blame. With a limited berry crop and widespread drought throughout the region, black bears have been searching for food and water in unusual places, heading as far as the Town of Wilton.
Once an easy food source is found, the animals will keep coming back for more. As they are still active during the fall, it’s important that campers and homeowners in the region pay attention to where they store their food, garbage, and other common bear attractants.
“DEC has received numerous reports of bears getting into garbage, damaging bird feeders, breaking into homes and other structures, killing chickens and harassing other livestock,” DEC spokesman David Winchell said to The Post-Star. “Repeat and egregious offenders need to be euthanized due to their habituation to obtaining food from humans and their loss of fear of humans.”
So what should you do to protect yourself and the wandering bear population? Here are some general tips for keeping bears at bay:
- After grilling, remove your grease can and turn your grill to “High” for a few minutes to burn away odors,
- Keep all food (including pet food) inside,
- Never operate refrigerators or freezers outside or on porches, and
- Consider using electric fencing to keep bears out of apiaries, chicken coops, compost, and gardens.
In addition, Winchell said property owners who have bears in their area should:
- Take down bird feeders and put them away until December,
- Keep garbage inside and take it to the curb the morning it will be collected, and
- Report nuisance bear activity to the DEC Region 5 wildlife unit at 518-897-1291.
What happens if you come in close contact with a bear? Make noise and back away slowly, says Winchell. Never try to run away, and keep bear spray on hand in case of emergencies. Finally, if approached by a bear while hiking, don’t reward the animal by dropping your pack; in the High Peaks, bears have attempted to intimidate hikers into providing food.
Tips for Campers
This year alone, the Saranac Lake Islands Campground (accessible only by boat) reported about 50 cases of bear activity to the DEC — not normal for the area. According to The Post-Star, boat campers are less likely to come prepared for bears than backpackers and car campers. To avoid attracting bears to your campsite, the DEC suggests the following guidelines:
- Keep your campsite clean: Take garbage and recyclables to the recycling center every night.
- Never leave coolers or food unattended: Store them in the trunk of your car or the cab of your truck, keeping windows shut and food out of sight. Standard coolers aren’t bear resistant, but bear canisters, coolers, and food lockers may be provided to borrow at your campsite. If you’re camping in the Eastern High Peaks Wilderness, know that the DEC requires the use of bear-resistant canisters for overnight users between April 1 and November 30.
- Don’t keep food, coolers, or scented items in your tent: Bears will have no trouble sniffing out the clothes you wore while grilling hot dogs, so never sleep in the outfit you cooked or ate dinner in.
- Treat toiletries as food items: Again, bears will be attracted to any scented products, edible to humans or not. Store your toiletries with your coolers and food.
- Clean up after eating: Pots, pans, grills, cooking utensils, and wash basins should be kept clean when not in use. Additionally, never leave food debris or wash dishes under your campsite’s water faucets.
- Think twice before burning items: Grease, garbage, plastic diapers, cans, and bottles should not thrown in the fire. Not only will these items not burn, but their odors will attract bears and other animals to your campsite.
- In the backcountry, pack the minimal amount of food. Cook away from your campsite and eat before dark. Bears become more active at dusk.
At the Saranac Lake campground, “DEC staff have mainly focused on educating campers on how to avoid attracting bears into their campsite,” the DEC said to The Post-Star. “Prior to their arrival, all campers with reservations at the campground are sent emails notifying them of the high nuisance bear activity and the steps they can take to avoid attracting bears. In addition, campers receive verbal instructions and handouts on this topic when they register. Signs have also been posted at campsites and DEC staff have increased patrols to provide additional instructions to campers.”
If you encounter a bear while camping, be sure to report it to campground staff or to the Region 5 DEC Wildlife office (518-897-1291).