About 300,000 black bears live in the United States. Increasingly bears are making their way into the communities we humans claim as “ours,” leading to controversial conundrums. Here’s my story of meeting the bear-being we now call Yogi-nanda, and some tips for what to do if you find yourself in a wildlife cohabitation quandary.
A Close Encounter With a Bear Neighbor
I suspected the bear’s presence earlier in the week when my husband, Sean, kvetched that the metal pole holding up our bird feeder had been ripped out of the ground.
What ensued next was typical of many marriages. “We must have a bear visitor around,” I suggested. “No, we don’t. There aren’t bears here,” he countered. “I told you to bring the bird feeder in at night; you are just leaving out temptations for night animals. And on that note, make sure to close the catio at sundown when I am gone next week so the cats don’t become bear snacks,” I…ahem…lectured. “But I like to see the flock in the morning,” he said. “Well, put the bird feeder out when you wake up,” I snarked. And on and on we went.
Now, I recognize many of you astute wildlife experts would love to pipe in here to offer that we shouldn’t have bird feeders out in the summer. And others might note that we shouldn’t feed birds at all. I won’t disagree with you. In our defense, I’ll just offer that we are not perfect animal liberation activists.
Well, the next day, when I arrived home, I noticed Sean had cemented the pole right back into the ground. And I thought, “We will see how this goes.” That night, upon walking—in the pitch dark—across the boardwalk separating our house from the studio I teach from, I heard a loud scuttle as I reached for our front door knob. It startled me so much that I ran into the house and slammed the door behind me. I looked through the living room window and saw the bird feeder pole was on the ground again—as well as a bunch of ill-formed concrete shapes.
I ran to make sure the cats were not out in their catio. I returned to the living room and yelled at Sean, “Bear!” We both looked through all the windows, but it was so dark we could not see anything…until Sean noticed a shadow in the high crux of the front walnut tree; in it was a bear.
Now I was afraid. Not of the bear. But fearful that the bear would get stuck, I would have to call someone to get them out, and the bear would be shot. That’s immediately where my mind went. With good reason: This past May, a bear was shot in Minneapolis because they roamed through residential neighborhoods. Last year, closer to me, a mother bear named Bobbi (by those who admired her on Facebook) was shot in Newtown, CT, but her cubs were left alive. In many places, killing an adult bear is legal. Killing cubs is not. Why leaving cubs motherless is “okay” remains senseless to me!
I wasn’t quite sure how much trouble my new bear neighbor was in, but I was really worried, so I didn’t take a photo to post on social media to ensure I didn’t start a panic. Plus I was sensitive that the bear might not want to be photographed looking like an immense cat trying to figure out how to get out of a tree.
So what I did do was text a wildlife rehabilitation expert for suggestions. She assured me black bears are excellent at climbing, and the bear would get themselves out of the tree if I removed myself from the window and just left them alone.
Indeed, our bear neighbor managed to find their way out of the tree and rambled along our backyard, my husband yelling, “Stay out of my garden,” and me countering, “Be safe, bear! I hope you can find some food, and I am sorry that we all have encroached on your habitat so much.”
How to Handle Bear Encounters Mindfully
This incident revealed that I was woefully undereducated on bears, having never seen one so close, and honestly, not having seen one before that was not captive in a zoo under human lock and key. But now that I had an experience, I decided to get educated. Here’s what I learned:
If You Live in an Area With Black Bears
Keep your yard “safe” for you and bear visitors by avoiding the creation of situations that may cause human-bear conflicts. The Humane Society suggests:
Keeping trash cans and recycling bins secured.
Enclosing compost piles.
Rethinking bird feeders. Avoid them in the summer, or at least bring them in at night.
If You See a Bear
Face the bear directly and make yourself look bigger (as opposed to running away).
Make noise—yell or bang pots and pans.
Know that black bears rarely attack humans, but if you are fearful, consider having pepper spray at your campsite or near your home’s door. Here’s how it works.
Learn More About Coexisting With Bears
For more on bears, read "Can Watching Bear Cams Improve Wellbeing?"