By Francesca Krempa
A black bear and her two cubs seem to have made themselves at home at Horseshoe Lake.
Recently, campers have reported sightings of a sow with two cubs meandering around the popular campgrounds southwest of Tupper Lake, rooting through their improperly hung food bags and other items stored in tents. Now, wildlife staff and forest rangers are using informational signs and educating campers in-person to raise awareness and teach them how to bear-proof their campsites.
According to the Department of Environmental Conservation’s Region 6 press office, the agency has no immediate plans to trap these bears, largely because capturing a mother with cubs is more challenging that trapping a single bear. Instead, staff and forest rangers are applying aversive conditioning techniques via non-lethal ammunition, like rubber bullets, to keep the bear away from humans.
“The purpose of aversive conditioning is to change the bear’s behavior so that it associates people with a negative outcome rather than the reward of food,” a representative from the press office wrote.
This isn’t the first bear-human conflict of the summer. In early July, a large male black bear was captured and killed after repeatedly raiding campsite at and around Lake Colden. The increase in human-bear interactions could be due to this summer’s lower-than-average rainfall. A dry summer often forces bears to seek alternative food sources.
“Ninety percent of what they eat is fruit and vegetation,” explained Steve Hall, co-founder of the Adirondack Wildlife Refuge and Rehabilitation Center, which is a home to a few ambassador black bears. “If the berry crop fails in the Adirondacks, black bears depend on that so desperately that they’re going to get into trouble.”
The DEC also suggested that, since coronavirus is putting a strain on most attractions and entertainment activities, many people are taking to the camping for the first time. These first-time campers might not know that there are bears in the area, nor the proper steps to avoid them.
In order to keep the bears at bay, all campers should recognize the role food plays.
Intentionally feeding the bears – which is a ticketable offense in New York State – only perpetuates the behavior and gives them a reason to come looking for food. Even unintentionally leaving out food, cooking tools and garbage can ring the dinner bell for bears.
“It takes a long time to discourage a bear who thinks they can eat there,” Hall said. “That’s why the dictum, ‘Never feed a bear’ is so critical.”
Per the DEC, campers and visitors should follow the below guidelines to reduce potential bear conflicts:
- Keep campsites and lean-tos as clean as possible.
- Clean up after all meals immediately. Keep grills, pots, pans, cooking utensils, and wash basins clean when not in use.
- Leave coolers and food inside car trunks or truck cabs.
- Store food and coolers in food lockers when available. If in the backcountry, use bear-resistant food canisters, which are required in certain areas of the Park.
- Never keep food, coolers, or scented items in tents when camping. Store toiletries securely with coolers and food.
- Do not put grease, garbage, plastic diapers, cans, bottles, or other refuse in the fireplace.
- Dispose of garbage in the campground’s dumpsters every evening.
If you do encounter a bear:
- Don’t panic. Most bears are as afraid of people as people are of bears.
- Don’t approach, surround, or corner the bear.
- Back away slowly. Do not run.
- Do not throw backpacks or food at bears. If bears are rewarded with food, they will continue to seek food from people.
- Make noise – raise your arms over your head to look bigger and yell loudly at the bear while slowly backing away.
If a bear is damaging property or is reluctant to leave the area, but the situation is not an emergency, call the regional wildlife office or call the DEC Law Enforcement Dispatch Center at 1-844-DEC-ECOs (1-844-332-3267).