Black bear population booming


While the recent mild winters may not make the average skiing enthusiast happy, the Vermont black bear population certainly isn’t complaining. Last year Vermont Fish and Game estimated the black bear population to lie somewhere between 4,600 and 5,700. This year, estimates have increased by over a thousand to somewhere in the vicinity of 7,000 statewide.

The black bear population has came a long way since the late 60’s, when the bear population was so low that trapping Vermont’s only species of bear was outlawed, and restrictions were placed on hunting them. Today the bear population is the highest it has been in 200 years. Great news for the bears, but not so great for the humans that find them a nuisance.

Locally, problem bears have been reported strolling through Katy Win trailer park, camping out berry patches on Gould Hill, and ravaging bird feeders across Lamoille county.

“We’ve sold a lot more rubber buckshot this year because of bears,” said Ramel Kuney, owner of the Old Fishing Hole Gun Shop in Morrisville.

With the hunting season underway, the shop has also seen an increase in black bears harvested by local hunters. Since the season started on Sep. 1, 12 bears have already been weighed in at the store, already twice the number reported at this time last year.

Most of our bears are actually reported much later in the season, during deer season,” Kuney said.

Rite Way Sports Shop in Hardwick has seen a similar trend in the number of bears killed this year. Already there have been 10 bears reported, while only two were reported last year for the entire season.

A booming bear population might sound appealing to a nature enthusiast, but a growing number of bears means big problems for those that find them on their property. Robin Bradley, who lives in Woodbury, had a bear in her yard that was trying to kill her chickens.

“I’ve have only seen six bears here in the 34 years I’ve lived here, and three of them were in the last two years.” Bradley said, adding that the most recent bear didn’t seem to be bothered by her attempts to drive it away.

“I went out and revved my truck but it didn’t scare it away. The thing that bothers me is that it’s not afraid of humans at all,” she said. Bradley then called Fish and Game and reported the bear, but received no response.

Don Gallison, who lives three miles down the road from Bradley, has also seen what he believes is the same bear. “It easily weighs 300 pounds I bet,” Gallison said. “My dog was barking at it, and got within five to six feet from it before it walked away into the woods.”

With two small children that often play outside, Gallison also found the bear unnerving.

Black bear attacks on humans are extremely rare according to Vermont Fish and Game, with the most recent attack dating back to 2011, when a Cabot woman was treated for a leg injury after she got between a mother bear and her cubs. Before that the most recent substantiated report was in 1947.

People like Bradley are not taking any chances, however.

“I haven’t put my bird feeders out this year, and I don’t leave the garbage outside,” she said.

These types of suggestions are listed on the Vermont Fish and Game website, which also recommends feeding pets indoors and cleaning barbecue grills regularly as precautions for Vermonters forced to live with the growing population of bears.