Bruin killings are on the rise in New York
By Pete DeMola
Times Union, Albany
LONG LAKE — Bears are universal in Long Lake.
Bear images dot the signs of real estate firms, pubs and diners, ice cream parlors, on homes, at the public library and in front of the general store, where the animal’s visage marks the entryways of the ursine emporium.
Long Lake’s logo of a mother bear guiding her cub is emblematic and immediately recognizable as a symbol of the Adirondack community.
Yet the creatures these days are also causing havoc in the community — hunting for food, breaking into homes and generally acting destructive — leading the state to euthanize four of the creatures in the tourist town this summer.
The surge in activity has the town abuzz.
“All of those bears were super-uber destructive,” said Jules Pierce, owner of Hoss’s Country Corner. “They did a lot of damage and it doesn’t do anyone any good when a bear is trying to break into your home with a newborn (bear cub) — or an RV park.”
Yet others acknowledge while the black bear does present a threat when placed into conflict situations with humans, they believe the locality should do everything possible to prevent what the state Department of Environmental Conservation refers to as a “humane euthanization” of the creatures.
“Why do bears need to die because of human misconduct?” wrote resident Caleb Davis in a letter published in the Hamilton County Express on behalf of a coalition of concerned Long Lakers. “Only we can prevent some dead bears. This park is their rightful home.”
The dilemma poses an existential question for a town whose bear imagery is central to its identity.
Many in the community have long since learned to co-exist with the bruins by leaving lights on at night, securing trash and broadcasting to tourists that they are not cuddly companions, but potentially lethal creatures that can peel back garage doors, trash kitchens and rip off car doors.
“They don’t bother me,” said resident Laura Young. “But I also don’t want to go outside at night and have one eat me.”
Between 50 and 60% of the state’s bear population lives in the Adirondack region.
The DEC has euthanized 16 bears in 2022 in northern New York to date compared to two last year, the highest number since 2018.
In addition to Long Lake, bears have been dispatched in Lake Pleasant, Old Forge and Inlet.
Officials at other towns — including Newcomb, Indian Lake, Wilmington, Keene, North Elba, Saranac Lake and Johnsburg — said they haven’t seen an increase in bear activity this summer and referred further comment to DEC, which is tasked with responding to such issues.
“I think it’s probably not accurate to say that there’s something unique about Long Lake that has set the stage for four (euthanized) bears in that area,” Hurst said.
Yet data provided by the state shows that just one bear each was put down in Essex and Warren counties this year, numbers that generally reflect the past half-decade of trends, with Hamilton and Herkimer County communities regularly leading the pack when it comes to bears that have to be euthanized.
Statewide, the number of bear-related complaints to DEC is about 50% higher than last year, Hurst said, and local officials elsewhere may not be aware of calls from their constituents that go directly to wildlife experts.
Bears are not behaving differently this year, experts said, but rather environmental conditions have spurred increased human-bear conflicts, which rise when natural foods are scarce and human-supplied foods are readily accessible.
Dry weather this spring and summer has reduced wild food availability and bears are forced to move around more in search of food, creating the opportunity for the bruins to move through human-dominated spaces to find something to eat.
Amid the surge in activity, the town is grappling with how to promote best practices.
Alex Roalsvig, Long Lake’s director of parks, recreation and tourism, said town officials are working with the state on solutions to minimize human-bear contact, including reviewing prototypes of bear-proof trash cans.
Public education, she said, is constant and ongoing.
“We’re pleased members of the community are being proactive,” Roalsvig said. “We’re definitely open to them working with us.”
Educational materials are prolific in the lakefront community located about 125 miles north of Albany, including at the Lake Eaton Campground, where the Dumpster enclosure is surrounded by an electric perimeter and multiple warnings to visitors.
Despite the surge in bear deaths, the town doesn’t appear to be worried about the impacts on tourism.
Roalsvig said there is chatter in the U.S. tourism industry about some localities swapping out their wildlife mascots because it may scare away tourists. But that’s not a conversation Long Lake is having.
“The bears have always been an iconic brand logo since the 1970s,” Roalsvig said.
Pierce, the owner of Hoss’s Country Corner whose father co-designed the logo, estimates two-thirds of the store’s inventory is bear-themed, from hundreds of figurines, sweatshirts to beer cozies and handcrafted wooden knick-knacks.
People should simply stay away from the animals and follow best practices, she said, to avoid “hotwiring” their brains from approaching humans for a handout.
Phyllis Fox, a tourist from the town of Jay, said bears are simply a part of everyday life and people need to learn how to co-exist.
“People are the problem,” Fox said, “not the bears.”