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Black Bears Evade Trap Efforts in West Coast NL Community

By Jaymie White Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

CAPE RAY — While black bears are native to Newfoundland and Labrador, it’s not common to see them roaming around inside communities. So when there is a sighting, it’s natural for residents to feel on edge. The community of Cape Ray has used social media to alert residents in the area of a particular black bear sighting in the area, even catching the bear and her cubs on video. They have also contacted the Department of Fisheries, Forestry, and Agriculture, whereupon the department issued the following statement in response to inquiries. “On October 31, 2023, conservation officers responded to reports about black bears in the community of Cape Ray. Officers have placed a bear trap in the community in an effort to capture and relocate the animals. Residents are asked to avoid areas where bear traps have been set. Reports of black bears in and around populated areas are relatively common, and the overall number of reports throughout the province is on par with previous years.  To date in 2023, wildlife officials have received 301 black bear reports from the public. This compares with 283 reports in 2022 and 390 in 2021. “When receiving reports about black bears and other wildlife in and around inhabited areas, conservation officers will assess the information provided and respond in a timely manner, if required. Officers will conduct patrols and discharge bear bangers, or set traps in an effort to scare away or humanely capture and relocate the animals to wilderness areas.  “Bears are often attracted to areas where there is an available food source, such as improperly stored or discarded garbage. To avoid attracting bears to residential areas, campsites and work sites, ensure the proper storage and disposal of garbage. Do not place garbage in outside containers until your designated collection day and keep pets inside or under close supervision in areas where bears have been sighted. “Under no circumstances should you approach a black bear. While every situation is different, when encountering a bear, take note of its behaviour. If the bear does not see you: •             Quietly back away and leave the area; •             Try to stay downwind of the animal; and •             Always keep an eye on the bear. “If the bear has seen or smelled you: •             Remain calm; •             Avoid direct eye contact; •             Give it space and a route to get away; •             Do not climb a tree; •             Back away but do not run; and •             If you must speak, do so calmly and firmly. “Be especially cautious if you see a female with cubs. The chances of an attack escalate greatly if she perceives you as a danger to her cubs. Never place yourself between a mother and her cub, and never attempt to approach them.” The Department of Fisheries, Forestry and Agriculture has numerous factoids about black bears on the gov.nl.ca website. “Black bears (Ursus americanus) are native to Newfoundland and Labrador. They are found throughout the province, although they are rarely observed on the Avalon Peninsula. Newfoundland and Labrador’s black bears roam large territories: recent studies indicate a female black bear’s home range to be 60-250 km², while a male’s home range can reach 850 km². Black bears in the wild are usually most active around dawn and dusk (crepuscular); bears living in closer proximity to humans are more nocturnal. Black bears prefer heavily wooded areas and dense bush. There are no reliable estimates of the total black bear population in North America because of the animal’s secretive nature, but populations are believed to be about 600,000, with more than 380,000 in Canada. Population numbers in Newfoundland and Labrador are estimated at 6,000 to 10,000 bears. There are numerous ways in which an individual can identify if the animal they see is, in fact, a black bear. “Like most animals, black bears usually have a natural fear of people, but they can quickly get used to life in residential areas as long as they have easy access to food. Although attacks on humans are extremely rare, they can occur if a black bear becomes too comfortable around people and starts associating humans with food. Bulky animal with a moderate-sized head; a tapered, brownish muzzle and long nostrils; rounded ears; small eyes; and a short tail. Coat is usually black, sometimes with a white patch on the throat or chest. Feet are furry with five curved, non-retractable claws used for digging and tearing out stumps or roots. Average size is approximately 5 ft (150 cm) long, with shoulder height varying from 3-4 ft high (100 to 120 cm). Adult males weigh about 200-300 lb (90-136 kg) although weights of more than 640 lb (290 kg) have been recorded in bears that eat garbage and human food. Females are much smaller than males, averaging 110-180 lb (50-80 kg). Emerge from dens and begin searching for food in early spring, and will eat almost anything available, including plants, berries, ants, fish, small mammals, and birds. Also eat carrion or garbage, and are often attracted to garbage dumps, campsites, or homes where food is readily available. In spring they are known to prey on moose and caribou calves. Flexible lips and a long, agile tongue to help access small pieces of food and insects. Although its eyesight is relatively poor at a distance, a black bear has a keen sense of hearing. Black bears can run up to 55 km/hour, and are also good swimmers and climbers.” Even though sightings are rare, people are smart to take extra care when one is in their community. “We live in harmony with most wildlife in Newfoundland and Labrador, often without even realizing it. Our forests and barrens are home to many animals. Unless we intentionally seek them out, some people can go a lifetime without being aware of their presence. As long as humans and wildlife respect each others’ boundaries, conflicts can be avoided – but we all have to do our part to make sure we don’t encourage behaviour that could cause problems for wildlife. “Black bears are always looking for an easy meal. Once they find a source of human food or garbage, they continue to seek it out from backpacks, picnic tables, coolers or garbage cans. When black bears become accustomed (or habituated) to humans, their natural fear of people fades and they take more chances to access food. Habituated bears are unpredictable and may become aggressive. “Little can be done to manage habituated bears. These animals often pay with their lives for human mistakes. Avoid creating problem bears by making sure food, trash and other attractants are stored properly. “Although black bears are usually timid and attacks are extremely rare, they are wild animals and can be dangerous.”  According to another social media post by a Cape Ray resident, on Tuesday, Nov. 7, the department set a second trap to try to catch the bears.

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