The Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department is increasing outreach efforts to encourage Vermont residents and visitors to get ahead of an anticipated jump in bear conflicts this June.
“Last year, we saw reported bear incidents spike from 206 in May to 473 in June,” said the department’s Black Bear Project Lead Biologist Jaclyn Comeau. “We want to head off that spike this year, and we need the public’s help to do it.”
The department has seen increasing bear conflicts between May and June over the past several years. However, 2022 showed a more pronounced spike than the three-year average of 182 reports in May and 370 reports in June. This year the department had already received 136 reports as of May 27. That number does not include incidents reported directly to game wardens and will likely grow as warden reports are processed over the next two weeks.
To increase awareness about the steps Vermonters can take to prevent bear conflicts, the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department is expanding its outreach effort this year.
“This month, Fish and Wildlife will be using every channel we have to reach everyone who lives in or visits Vermont with the message that bear coexistence is a shared responsibility,” said Comeau. “For the first time, we are teaming up with the Department of Forests, Parks, and Recreation and the Department of Environmental Conservation to put up ‘Keep Bears Wild’ signs at state parks and transfer stations. Anywhere there is a risk of bears learning to look for food near people, we want people to be able to see how to reduce that risk.”
In Vermont, the leading cause of bear conflicts is unsecured garbage, including household trash collection bins and dumpsters at businesses and campgrounds. Keeping garbage bins inside until a few hours before trash collection can significantly reduce the risk of bear conflicts in residential neighborhoods. Insisting that garbage collectors provide businesses and public facilities with bear-proof dumpsters can reduce the risk of conflicts in other locations.
When preventative steps are not in place and bears learn that unsecured garbage is an easy food source, they can quickly become bold, and sometimes aggressive.
“If a bear develops aggressive behaviors like breaking into buildings in search of food, the department may have to kill that bear to protect human safety—nobody wants that outcome,” said Comeau. “Our goal is for everyone to know the steps to prevent bear conflicts from happening in the first place. Proactive coexistences is the best thing for bears and for people, and it will only work if everyone who lives in or visits Vermont treats it as a shared responsibility.”
A full list of steps for coexisting with bears is available on the department’s website.
Vermonters who notice bears seeking food in their yards or in public places like campgrounds should report the incident.