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Fed bears are dead bears

By Rachel Goff

So far this summer, over two dozen Valley residents have posted bear sightings to public forums and last Friday, the Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department (VT F&W) put out a press release in response to heightened concern over the animals' actions throughout the region.

"Our phone has been ringing constantly the last couple of weeks with calls from people asking what to do about a bear that has been visiting their yard," Col. David LeCours, the department's director of law enforcement, said. And Vermont Fish & Wildlife has some answers.

According to LeCours, the first thing to do after spotting a bear in a developed area is to remove whatever could be attracting it (i.e., food). Some of the most common bear attractors include bird feeders and pet food, as well as barbeque grills and trash bins.

Removing food is important because bears that have found it near someone's house almost always return for more. In doing so, the animals "develop habits that can lead to [their] demise," Vermont Fish & Wildlife explains. "Relocating a nuisance bear is very difficult—they frequently have to be put down."

Nevertheless, Vermont law states that residents must take reasonable measures to protect their property from bears before the department can use lethal force against the animal. Those measures include securing chicken coops and beehives with electric fencing, keeping trash indoors or in bear-proof containers and—to the surprise of some—not putting out bird feeders between April 1 and November 30, as the feathery animals have plenty to eat during warmer months without human help.

While the statute aims to prevent the unintentional feeding of bears, according to a state law passed in 2013, it is now illegal to intentionally feed bears and last Tuesday, July 15, a Montgomery man was charged by Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department for deliberately attracting the animals to his property with treats.

A game warden responded to the residence of Jeffrey Messier following a report of a bear being killed in self-defense at a neighboring home. Upon recovering the bear, the warden found its stomach was full of sunflower seeds, which he saw that Messier had been feeding to several bears at his home.

"Bears are normally shy and not aggressive toward humans," biologist Forrest Hammond said in another Vermont Fish & Wildlife press release issued after the incident. "However, a bear that has been fed by humans soon loses its shyness and can become dangerous, especially to the landowner feeding the bear and to [his or her] neighbors."

With the new law making it illegal to feed bears, "We're in a period of transition," Hammond said, but "people are really starting to get the message." If convicted for illegally feeding bears, Messier faces a fine of up to $1,000 and a one-year revocation of his hunting, fishing and trapping licenses.

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