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August 23, 2022

By Barrett Seaman

Well okay, bears are not necessarily bad news, but they do seem to be around the rivertowns a lot this summer, much to the consternation of residents. In May, there were reports of a black bear near Yonkers’ Dunwoodie golf course. Around that same time, one was spotted on Beekman Avenue in downtown Sleepy Hollow.

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In June, there were several reports of bears in the Irvington Woods. One photo appeared to show a mother bear with a cub in tow near the Hermits’ Grave. In early August, a Dobbs Ferry resident captured a bear on video, limping off into the darkness. The same, or perhaps another limping bear was spotted and filmed in Tarrytown.

Just last week, another bear was videoed rummaging through garbage cans in the Gracemere section of Tarrytown. It was perhaps the same bear that destroyed several beehives (you know about bears and honey, of course).

“In my 28 plus years here as a police officer,” says Tarrytown Police Chief John Barbalet, “there have never been this many sightings in our area.” Barbalet believes “it’s probably the same bear who just happens to like our area.”But can it be that one bear keeps showing up in four different villages—sometimes alone, sometimes with a cub, sometimes limping? Greenburgh Town Supervisor Paul Feiner says he has gotten about a dozen calls about bears wandering onto people’s property, knocking over garbage and even outdoor grills.

Many residents experiencing close encounters want someone in authority to do something about it, but there is only one governmental agency empowered to do that: the State Department of Environmental Conservation, the NYSDEC.

Normally, black bears (Ursus americanus) hang out upstate, in the mountains; about half live in the Adirondacks, another third in the Catskills. During the 20th century, “overhunting, habitat loss and fragmentation” reduced the nation’s population of black bears significantly, according to a 2015 National Geographic report. In this century, however, they are making a comeback. “An estimated 800,000 black bears roam the continent,” stated the report, “slowly returning to many of their old haunts.”

And to new haunts as it turns out. Habitat loss caused by suburban and ex-urban development has been forcing this once-protected species to seek shelter—and food—in human-populated areas, like Dobbs Ferry. They stay because there is food—in garbage cans, bird feeders and the latest pièce de résistance, food scrap containers.

Bears have become so popular they got their own Zoom event in mid-August

So the first piece of advice experts offer is to keep garbage and food scrap containers closed off—in a shed or the garage. Burn the excess grease off the outdoor grill so they won’t be tempted to lick it. As the cooler months set in, empty the outdoor bird feeders.

If you do encounter a bear, you can call the cops on their non-emergency number. They may well come to ensure your safety but even if the bear is still there, they are unlikely to do anything but report it to the DEC. Experts assure us that the bear is no more interested in a fight than you are. Make noise—yell, clap or bang a garbage can lid—and it will most likely run off. Move slowly and if you feel the need to escape, back away slowly. Don’t run and don’t do anything that would corner or otherwise entrap the animal.

If a bear is uncharacteristically aggressive or perhaps injured, the DEC may well come to check the situation out, but if the bear is just foraging, experts will probably offer you advice over the phone. Mike Morano, Lieutenant in the Irvington Police Department advises those frightened by a bear to call the regional NYSDEC officer, Charles Eyler (office: 845-256-3013; cell: 845-490-9869; email: Charleseyler@dec.ny.gov.

As much as you may want the DEC to come with a tranquilizer gun and a cage so that they can truck the animal off to the mountains, experts say that seldom solves the problem. “Relocated bears have been known to travel up to 300 miles to return to where they were caught,” advises the DEC. Instead, they say, stubborn bears “will be trapped and hazed upon release at that location in hopes of teaching the bear that obtaining food near humans is unacceptable.”

And bad manners among black bears is indeed bad news.

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