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Summertime is dwindling, enjoy it while it lasts

August 15, 2009
By Joe Hackett

Despite a week that featured a pleasant mix of sun, clouds and just a bit of rain, diminishing evening temperatures betray the fact that summer season is winding down. Before too long, the rituals of school will signal a return to the monotony of an academic calendar and the responsibilities that follow. Get out and take advantage of the blue skies.

With only a scant two weeks left in the month of August, this is a good time to reassess the extent of the summer's accomplishments. Have you climbed a mountain, jumped in the lake, paddled the ponds, caught a trout, enjoyed a bar-becue or fresh blueberry pancakes, water-skied, camped under the stars and listened to the mournful tune of a loon, biked a back road or a forested trail, visited the museum, skippered a sailboat or motored up the Saranacs?

If not, there is no time like the present. Already, a few maples are sporting leaves of crimson and the first frost can't be far behind.

Across the region, berry patches have finally ripened, luring bears, birds and a fair share of two legged berry pickers. While pickers can be found along the roadsides, the best berry patches are often a ways off the beaten path.

Berry pickers guard their favorite patch with a secrecy rivaled only by anglers protecting the location of a prized brook trout pond. It is a special place they venture to once or twice a year and many such sites are inherited, their locations passed down from one generation to another.

This year, most berries have been rather stunted; I'm told this is likely due to a lack of regular sunshine, a necessary requirement for fruits to fully develop. Blueberries have been out for some time and raspberries are now hitting their peak.

However, it appears that blackberries may be a lost cause. On bushes that usually produce blackberries the size of a thimble, they remain shriveled and stunted, with little color. Although blackberries are not my favored flavor, the impact of this shortage of may be having unexpected consequences.

"Bearly" there

or everywhere

Reports have been filtering in from across the park about a preponderance of marauding bears looking for food. I've heard of a large black bear that has regularly been raiding birdfeeders and garbage cans in the sleepy, little hamlet of New Russia.

In one instance, a local homeowner found a dead raccoon along the route of scattered garbage, which had obviously been swatted by a bruin that didn't care for the competition.

State campgrounds ranging from from Inlet to Cranberry Lake to Lake George report similar troubles. Such sentiments have also been voiced from camp owners and campers alike.

In recent weeks, I have seen almost as many bear as I have deer, including three sightings of a sow bear with three cubs in tow. Typically, Adirondack bears have only one or two cubs.

Inquisitive about the numbers and frequency of bear being reported, I placed a call to Ed Reid, a wildlife biologist at DEC Region 5.

"We had such a good food crop last fall that the bears likely had good reproduction," he said. "They went into the winter very fat and healthy, which surely contributed to the survival of cubs."

Regarding the frequency of sightings and the number of negative bear incidents this season, Reid detailed that, "Food sources were good early this year. But maybe because of a failed berry crop, or other food sources, we've experienced a number of bears in towns and camps across the park. But recently, this trend appears to have turned and now they've moved back to the natural food sources."

According to a DEC report, black bears are omnivores and feed on grasses and forbs in the spring, soft mast and colonial insects in the summer, and soft and hard mast in the fall.

Bears also feed on a variety of crops including corn and honey. But bears are very opportunistic and may travel extensively to locate available food supplies.

Already this season, there have been a number of dangerous bear encounters, which resulted in bears being shot and killed by the public. In two of these cases, the individuals responsible for the shootings have been charged and convicted with violations of Conservation Law.

According to DEC reports, on July 17, 2009, Samuel Keller, of Long Lake shot a black bear in his yard and was charged by DEC for taking a bear during the closed season. On Aug. 6, 2009, Keller appeared in Long Lake Town Court and agreed to a civil compromise. In satisfaction of the criminal charge, Keller agreed to pay a civil penalty of $252.50.

On May 22, 2009, Benny A. Haywood, of Tupper Lake shot and killed a black bear while camping at Horseshoe Lake in Piercefield, St. Lawrence County. Environmental Conservation Officers charged Benny A. Haywood, 29, with: taking a bear during the closed season, hunting without a license, taking bear with the aid of an artificial light and fourth-degree criminal possession of a weapon. On July 29, 2009, Haywood pleaded guilty to taking a bear during the closed season and was sentenced to time served.

The third incident, which is still under investigation by Environmental Conservation Officers involves an individual who was allegedly threatened by two bears that refused to leave his campsite in the High Peaks Wilderness Area.

Fearing for his safety, the camper used a .40 caliber handgun to shoot and kill one of the bruins. The bear was later found dead less than a hundred yards from the site of the shooting by ECO's and Forest Rangers. Currently, no charges have been filed although the incident remains under investigation.

Steve Litwhiler, a spokesman for DEC Region 6 explained that, "There's been a lot of issues with bears this summer, and it's been most pronounced in the areas of Old Forge, Inlet and Sabattis. We had a staff meeting this morning, (Aug. 10) and the topic came up. We may be reaching the point where action may have to be taken."

Wildlife Biologist Ed Reid advised, "Bears aren't going away, so we just have to learn to live with them. "

There are an estimated 4,000 to 5,000 bears in the Adirondacks and the largest reported bear in New York weighed an estimated 750 pounds. However, the average adult male weighs approximately 295 pounds and the average adult female approximately 160 pounds .

Common sense steps to avoid bear trouble include: Never feed bears or leave other likely food sources available. While bird seed/feeders are the most common attractant that leads to human-bear interactions there are many other attractants such as open garbage dumpsters, compost piles, barbecue grills, and direct bear feeding such as food scraps or fish guts.

Feeding bears can habituate bears to humans and condition them to seek these types of alternative food sources. Although black bears have a keen sense of smell, they possess very poor eyesight. If you encounter a bear, make a lot of noise, do not surprise them. Hold your ground. Do not turn and run, make yourself as large as possible and slowly back away.

Although there have been instances of black bears attacking humans, these cases are rare and have usually occurred when a bear was surprised or attempting to defend it's cubs.

According to one DEC study, the likelihood of a bear becoming involved in an incident that results in injury to people is extremely low. Between 1960 and 2000, millions of people spent time living and recreating in areas of New York State occupied by bears, yet only eight people were injured by bears in that time. None of the injuries were serious.

Since 2000, there have been two more serious injuries to people, including an unprovoked fatal encounter involving an infant. This incident was the first ever human fatality caused by a black bear in New York State, and only the second human fatality caused by a black bear in the northeastern United States since 1900. In early 2006, a young girl was attacked and killed by a black bear in Tennessee, bringing the total number of fatalities in the eastern United States to three.



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