After a couple of local black bear sightings — including at least one in Rome’s outer district — the state Department of Environmental Conservation has some warnings on keeping bears away from your property.
DEC officials said they track bear sightings through social media and other direct sources from the public.
“Bears are breeding right now in New York and animals are wandering the landscape looking for mates, or younger aged animals are dispersing to look for their own territories,” said Steve Heerkens, big game biologist with the DEC in Watertown.
“The bear breeding season starts in June and runs through August. Bear do occasionally wander into developed areas and we ask the public to manage their garbage and remove bird feeders to minimize attracting bears to their properties.”
Heerkens added, “Any animal travelling towards the Mohawk Valley from the north or south is going to encounter human development. Sightings at this time of year in the Mohawk Valley are not rare.”
A bear was caught on a Ring security camera on Bell Road in Rome, behind the Mohawk Glen Golf Course.
A resident in Clinton reported seeing a bear rummaging through garbage at the Glenford Estates off Old Plank Road.
A resident in Middleville in Herkimer County also reportedly spotted a bear or bears on multiple occasions.
Heerkens said New York only has black bears, and they’re likely younger aged males this time of year. He said the DEC generally “has a good idea if there are multiple bears” in an area based on the time of calls, which can create a timeline of activity.
As for the local bear sightings, Heerkens said it’s possible they’re all of the same bear.
“Considering the low number of bears in Oneida County, it seems unlikely that we have multiple bears in one small area at the same time,” Heerkens stated.
DEC officials noted that they would not be able to know for sure unless they were able to actually study and track the bears.
As for what the average person should do if they spot a bear in the wild, Heerkens warned to keep your distance.
“Enjoy the opportunity, but be respectful,” he stated. “Be aware of potential attractants on your property and make sure food options are eliminated. If the bear isn’t getting access to food sources, it will move on.”
According to the DEC, there are at least 6,000 to 8,000 black bears in areas of New York open to hunting. About 10 to 15% of those bears live in the central and western areas of the state. Officials said transient bears are routinely encountered in the Mohawk Valley, as well as areas like the Lake Ontario Plains and the St. Lawrence Valley.
Black bears typically hibernate up to five months during the winter, officials said. They are omnivores and are known to eat nearly anything, from grasses to berries, fruits, nuts, seeds and carrion. They are also known to eat human sources of food, such as corn, honey, bird seed, trash and pet food.
Officials said black bears are naturally curious, which is why they are so willing to get close to human settlements while on the search for food. Bears are also intelligent and learn from experience, which means bears will remember if a human feeds them and will likely come back for more.
When a bear learns to obtain food directly from humans, officials said the bear can become bold and aggressive. Deliberate and intentional feeding of bears is illegal in New York.
Feeding bears is also unhealthy for the bears, officials said. When bears dig into garbage, they won’t distinguish between food and other trash, like soap, shaving cream, plastic and food packaging materials.
For more information on black bears, visit www.DEC.ny.gov.