Editor’s Note: This article has been updated with information on the bear’s latest sighting, placing it somewhere in West Warwick.
WARWICK, RI — RI Department of Environmental Management officials will tell you bears don’t discriminate on the basis of zip codes, as a number of Warwick residents can attest following several reported sightings of a black bear in the city on and nearby Downing Lane.
“They just follow their noses and at this time of year their noses are leading them to easily available food. Some of the easiest food to be found is the seed in bird feeders,” said Michael Healey, chief public affairs officer for DEM.
Warwick Police and DEM police visited a Downing Lane home Sunday following a bear the homeowner had videotaped raiding her bird feeder, the feeder in the bear’s mouth, according to a report from Channel 12. The footage underscores warnings the DEM has been issuing to Rhode Islanders for the last few weeks as bears have been sighted across the state, including nearby towns such as Coventry, North Kingstown and further away in Narragansett.
Heley said the bear was last sighted in the Tanglewood section of West Warwick at about 8:15 p.m., where they lost sight or sign of the animal.
“There is no reason for a bear to be close to houses unless there is something to eat there,” said DEM Wildlife Biologist Charlie Brown in a recent statement warning people to keep the feeders under wraps. “Almost every call we get is related to bears taking down bird feeders. Be sure to remove your bird feeders and other potential food sources from your yards.”
Healey said that while sightings of bears across the state were thought to be the same bear, they now believe Warwick’s bear is a different animal from the one sighted recently in Narragansett.
“The bear that approached the woman’s car in Narragansett, the bear that was spotted in North Kingstown and Coventry recently, those sightings could have occurred just as easily in Warwick. A bear can cover a lot of ground in a day or a week,” Healey said.
In Narragansett May 27, a bear looking for food took down bird feeders and put its paws on the deck door of a home in Narragansett.
“The behavior exhibited by the bear yesterday in Narragansett “is that of a habituated bear, one that has likely not had any negative stimulus from close interaction from humans,” Brown said. Healey said that bear is a curious bear, not an aggressive bear.
Black Bear Populations Growing
The DEM reports increasing bear populations in Connecticut and Massachusetts have led to more frequent sightings in Rhode Island – especially in rural areas of Providence, Kent, and Washington counties. As black bear populations continue to increase in neighboring states it is likely that the presence of bears in Rhode Island will become a more frequent occurrence.
Black bears are generally shy and secretive, and usually fearful of humans; however, if they become dependent on backyard food sources they can lose their fear and become a nuisance, the DEM warned. Intelligent and adaptable, they learn quickly and adjust to the presence of humans. They have a keen sense of smell and will investigate food odors; black bears may visit bird feeders, beehives, chicken coops, rabbit hutches, and compost piles in search of food. They are opportunists, and it is this feeding behavior that attracts them to residential areas. Once a bear finds an accessible food source, it may routinely return to the same site or similar sites to feed.
Discourage Neighborhood Bear Visits
Without the food attractions, and left alone, a curious bear will usually wander back into more secluded areas. DEM reminds the public to become “bear aware” by:
- Removing bird feeders by early April and waiting until early November to put them up back up.
- Refraining from feeding pets outside, or if you do, taking pet food dishes inside at night. Storing birdseed, livestock feed, and garbage in buildings.
- Taking garbage out for pickup on the morning of collection – not the night before.
- Keeping barbecue grills clean of grease. Do not put meat or sweet food scraps in your compost pile.
- Using electric fencing around chicken coops, beehives, rabbit hutches, and livestock pens.
- Moving livestock into barns at night.
- Above all, DO NOT FEED BEARS. These are wild animals. An adult male typically weighs between 150 and 450 pounds, while females generally weigh between 100 and 250 pounds.
If a black bear is spotted on private property, people are advised to:
- Report the sighting to DEM’s Division of Law Enforcement at 222-3070. DEM is working closely with local police to track bearsightings and complaints and educate people on how to safely coexist with bears.
- Do not panic. Bears are rarely aggressive toward people and will often leave on their own. After the bear leaves the area, food sources or any other item of attraction should be removed from the yard.
- Do not run away if you surprise a bear. Walk away slowly while facing the bear. In Rhode Island, black bears are protected animals. Intentionally feeding or shooting a bear is illegal.
The following steps will minimize the potential for bears attacking livestock or apiaries:
- Use electric fencing around pens or paddocks to protect sheep and goats and other small livestock.
- Move small livestock into barns at night.
- Secure grains and sweet feeds in buildings.
- Use electric fencing to protect apiaries and chicken coops.
For more bear facts, visit DEM’s website. For more information on DEM programs and initiatives, visit www.dem.ri.gov. Follow www.facebook.com/RhodeIslandDEM [facebook.com] or on Twitter (@RhodeIslandDEM) for timely updates.