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I live in the suburban town of Holden, in Central Massachusetts. Many hundreds of acres of mature woodland areas are being torn down nearby to create new roads and housing developments, and it's getting worse. As a staunch conservationist, this concerns me.

Recently a friend in a nearby city, Worcester, Massachusetts, had a young black bear on her deck. The area is very developed, congested, and there aren't many trees. My friend doesn't have bird feeders, although her neighbors do. Some people are careful with their garbage, but there's plenty around.

The bear didn't do anything aggressive, it just seemed curious. She didn't want it to get hurt so she called animal control to come protect it. Unfortunately, by the time the officer arrived, the bear had wandered off. The officer said he'd try to find, tranquilize and transport it for release at a nearby wildlife habitat area, but he couldn't promise anything. He said there's been a significant increase in bear sightings in her city over the last few years. City animal officers aren't properly equipped to protect them.

In his opinion, the increase is due, at least in large part, to the construction I mentioned. There's enormous decimation of natural habitats of bears and other animals. Ponds and other water sources are being drained, which is devastating for animals and birds.

He said food, shelter and security are no longer available to animals that have inhabited these areas for many years. This has caused bears (and other animals) to venture into areas where they wouldn't necessarily need or want to go in order to find food. The youngsters, such as my friend's visitor, might even be looking for their mother, family members, or other animals who are usually together in the woods.

This is my question: Does it make sense to assume that a significant decrease in their natural habitat would drive more bears into a busy city than would otherwise be there? Is there a causal relationship in this type of situation? Learning about this will help me in my approach to conservation, both personally and politically.

  • This might be better asked at biology.stackexchange.com – wallyk Aug 23 '17 at 4:08
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    I believe it's because a large wooded area in a suburban town about five miles away is being cleared to build new houses, and that bears are being forced out of their natural habitat. They're lost and not only seeking food, but also safe shelter. – Peter1807 Aug 23 '17 at 6:57
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Bears have definitely been migrating from the Berkshires in western MA eastward over the last couple of decades or so. Everyplace roughly outside Route 128 (about 15 mile ring road around Boston) and parts of the south shore and The Cape has bears.

Loss of habitat is pushing them to find food elsewhere. Increasingly, that elsewhere is near people, since that's pretty much all that's left. Bears are naturally afraid of humans, but with increased exposure, some become acclimated. In places with less wild food, bears are becoming increasingly used to being around humans.

One town in the Connecticut Valley (North Hampton ?) had such a bear problem that it took a city-wide effort and new ordinances to deal with the problem. You can probably find details about that on line. Worcester may be headed the same way.

Acclimated bears are a danger to humans, and are usually shot by animal control officers. The best thing you can do is make sure there is never any food left around, and to encourage your neighbors to do the same.

Your bear was probably young and inexperienced, has previously found food near humans, and may have even been given handouts by irresponsible people. Once this behavior is learned, it is not unlearned. This bear will undoubtedly continue, and will most likely get itself killed this fall when it really steps up its eating behavior.

The MA Division of Fish and Wildlife tracks these encounters and is quite aware of the situation. There is probably a lot of detail about urban bears on their web site.

Added

Here is a link to a relevant page on the MA Wildlife web site: http://www.mass.gov/eea/agencies/dfg/dfw/fish-wildlife-plants/mammals/black-bear-mass.html

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Bears only have one reason to go anywhere, and that reason is food. Humans eat to live, but bears live to eat. They are always on the move to find more food, discovering new patches of berries, digging up hills full of delicious roots, turning over rocks to find sleeping moths and other bugs, ripping open rotten logs for grubs. They consume massive amounts of food everyday and will stay on the move until they find something to eat.

The number one reason why feeding bears is prohibited everywhere is because once a bear finds food, he sticks around until the food is all gone. With berry patches, once a bear has picked the last berry, there's nothing left for it anymore and it moves on. In residential areas however, once a bear has discovered that there is a replenishable food source (usually garbage cans) then they stick around, or return frequently. This is especially true for young bears, as they're still learning how to fend for themselves, and are quick to pick up on bad habits, like nosing around in peoples back yards hoping to luck out and find some scraps out of the garbage, or get some handouts from people BBQing in their back yards.

If a small bear is approaching people in their yards, sniffing them expectantly, then I'd be willing to bet that young bear has received handouts before, and is now going yard to yard looking for more people to give it food. Unfortunately for the bear, it is most likely going to be euthanized, because bears that get handouts and get used to approaching humans become problem bears when they get bigger, and more aggressively "solicit" for handouts or invade backyards or even inside of peoples homes. The idiom used by fish and wildlife officers is, "A fed bear is a dead bear". Feeding bears is a death sentence, because they will always come back for more, and when bears repeatedly get too close to people is when they're determined to be a danger to the public.

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    I think this is spot on with the addition of deforestation pushing them to have to look even more. – Nate W Aug 23 '17 at 18:23
  • @NateWengert Not exclusively, but habitat loss, or competition for food. Interesting fact is bears used to be plains animals. They used to roam the open plains following herds of buffalo, feeding of the fallen and the stragglers. It wasn't until the buffalo were all killed off and farmers chased the bears out of the fields that they all moved into the forests. They're actually moving back out to the plains out here. Alberta declared Grizzlies a "threatened" species, not they have little incentive to stay in the mountains because ranchers aren't shooting them anymore. much to the bain of the – ShemSeger Aug 23 '17 at 20:46
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    You say humans eat to live but bears live to eat. I see plenty of people who, if their BMI is any indicator, live to eat, but this comment is not about the causes of obesity in people. Would a bear, not confined, with unlimited food available, eat to obesity? – ab2 Aug 24 '17 at 3:11
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    @ab2 Yep. That's exactly what they try to do every year, they eat excessively so they can pack on weight for the winter. Then they burn it all off during torpor over the winter months, and start gorging themselves again in the spring. – ShemSeger Aug 24 '17 at 5:52
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    @Sue, Bears don't live in trees, and they don't eat out of trees. In fact they spend most of their time grazing in meadows and on hillsides. I see bears in deforested areas all the time, because berries grow better there. Cutting down trees wouldn't be enough to displace a bear, something would have to move in and shrink its territory. Young bears are dumb, it could have just wandered into he city because its lost. Likely followed a stream or something all the way there. – ShemSeger Aug 24 '17 at 6:25

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