SOUTHERN WORCESTER COUNTY- Residents have reported an unusual number of bear sightings at residential and public locations in recent weeks. Sturbridge residents have shared at least two sightings on social media; one bear was spotted near a Dunkin’ Donuts and another was seen in a residential area.
Tuesday, June 5, in Oxford, students at Clara Barton Elementary School were kept indoors for the entire school day and at before and after-school activities, due to a bear sighting near school grounds the previous night. An Oxford resident also spotted a bear near CVS on Main Street. On Wednesday, June 6, another bear was seen in Charlton.
According to Dave Wattles of The Massachusetts Department of Fisheries and Wildlife, this area of Southern Worcester County can expect an increase in bear sightings over the next several years.
“These towns are a part of an expanding bear range and we will see an increasing number of bears in the years ahead,” comments Wattles, a Bear Project Leader and Fur Bearer Biologist with the State of Massachusetts.
Bear activity and sightings peak in June and occur to a lesser extent in July due to the species’ mating season.
According to Wattles, bear populations are more established north of the Mass Pike and west of I-84. Bear sightings in those areas have not been an unusual occurrence for some time. However, black bears have few natural predators and a low mortality rate, so the population has been increasing. Southern Worcester County provides suitable bear habitat conditions as the population increases.
After the age of three or four, black bears in Massachusetts have a low mortality rate due to a lack of natural predators. Most mortality comes from hunting, vehicular or other accidents or nuisance killings.
Hunting regulations in the State of Massachusetts make bear hunting more of a challenge than is seen in other jurisdictions. Since 1996, the use of either hounds or baiting has been prohibited for those licensed to hunt bears.
If you see a bear, give it space and do not approach the animal. If you believe the bear poses a public safety risk, you can call local police or the Massachusetts Department of Fisheries and Wildlife.
“Don’t try to follow the animal. Leave it alone and it will generally wander through the area,” Wattles advises.
The Massachusetts Department of Fisheries and Wildlife urges homeowners to remove birdfeeders from their property and to not leave garbage outside. The full list of recommendations, including how to prevent conflict with black bears, how to protect chicken coops with electric wiring and other property concerns can be found at Mass.gov/bears.
Article graphic courtesy of Massachusetts Department of Fisheries and Wildlife