Wildlife, people increasingly intersect as territories overlap

Printed from: https://newbostonpost.com/2016/02/17/wildlife-people-increasingly-intersect-as-territories-overlap/

BOSTON – With spring in the air – for now, at least – many animals in the wild, including black bears, are getting ready to emerge from their lairs in search of food both for themselves and their newborn broods.

Massachusetts is the third most densely populated state in the country, with roughly 6.7 million people inhabiting about 5 million acres. Despite the crowds, the state’s black bear population has been increasing in both numbers and distribution over the past 35 years.

Statewide, the number of bears has risen to an estimated 4,000-plus, mostly in Worcester County, northern Middlesex County and areas west to the Berkshires. But males have been spotted in eastern Massachusetts communities, including Boston suburbs and even on Cape Cod. More and more often, the sight of one of these lumber creatures vandalizing a birdfeeder or rummaging in a trash bin startles Hub suburbanites more accustomed to dealing with such trespasses by squirrels and stray dogs.

“A bear that frequents a backyard is often disconcerting to people, especially in the eastern part of the state, where it’s a newer phenomenon,” said Laura Conlee, the furbearer and black bear project leader for the state Department of Fisheries and Wildlife. People who live in central and western Massachusetts counties don’t see animal sightings as anything unusual, she said.

“A lot of it is dependent on where they live, too, and for some people it’s just that initial lack of experience,” she said. “They are not sure quite what to do or what they need to do to make sure that they are not attracting those animals, because it is a new thing for them.”

For areas in the eastern part of the state, the bear population is growing and expanding rapidly. Each year more residents within the Interstate 495 – Route 128 belt encounter bears. It’s not uncommon to have a male turn up inside the 128 belt.

Laura Hagen, the deputy director of advocacy at Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals-Angell in Boston, believes the challenge presented by bears boils down to balancing what grabs the most media attention with the big picture. With more bears in the state, and more people living further from Boston, more intermingling becomes almost inevitable.

“We are moving more and more into our wild places to live,” Hagen said. “Boston-area communities are getting so expensive that everyone is moving further and further out.”

Even in more densely populated communities nearer the city, if residents leave bird feeders or garbage open outside, “you’re basically creating a buffet for wildlife,” she said.

One of the main reasons why wildlife frequents suburban areas is because there is not as much undeveloped habitat for them as there used to be, but also it has to do with the adaptability of species learning to live in close proximity to people.

“They are using small forest patches or vegetated back yards and taking advantage of human-associated food sources that are typically really abundant and really easy to get,” Conlee said.

A coyote roams through a suburban lawn (photo courtesy of John Maguranis)

A coyote roams through a suburban lawn (photo courtesy of John Maguranis)

Coyotes represent another adaptable species that has brought concern to many residents. Although they began appearing in the area in the 1950s and `60s, many people in Massachusetts still are alarmed when they spot one of these dog-like animals. Many believe coyotes are bold and aggressive, and fear for their small pets.

“Co-existence is really the best way to do it and to co-exist with coyotes first of all you need to learn about them,” said John Maguranis, Belmont animal control officer and Project Coyote state representative.

In the cold months, coyotes can look a lot bigger due to the added five inches of depth to their fur, which can make them look more formidable to an untrained eye.

Being an animal control officer, Maguranis said he gets a lot of complaints about woodchucks, rabbits, rats and mice that eat gardens. Coyotes, he added, actually help curb those problems.

“People need to understand that wildlife needs a balance and that’s why there are predators,” Maguranis said. “They are there for a reason and when you take predators out of the equation, all those other animal populations expand. Having coyotes in the area now is a good thing for Mother Nature, ecology and the balance of nature.”

Coyotes are crepuscular, meaning they are most active during low light hours but can be seen at anytime of the day.

The easiest way to prevent human conflict with bears and coyotes is to secure food sources, experts say. Also, people should avoid disturbing a bear with cubs.

Homeowners can keep coyotes and bears away by taking simple steps such as removing fruit from trees and bushes, putting away bird feeders and cleaning up compost bins and trash receptacles that attract rodents. Small dogs and cats should be kept indoors to prevent them from becoming prey.

“It’s the easy, easy food source that animals learn to use regardless of the species,” Conlee said. “The food sources may vary by species but there’s an awful lot that run across the board that a whole lot of different species will use.”

To learn more about how to deal with wildlife in your area you can visit the Fisheries and Wildlife agency, Project Coyote or visit the wildlife resource center at the MSCPA.

Reports of black bears in the state (courtesy of the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife)

Reports of black bears in the state (courtesy of the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife)