SARANAC LAKE - It's a story that's become common - a bear shows up in a populated area in broad daylight and draws attention.
It happened again late Thursday afternoon, this time on Margaret Street in the village, when a small black bear cub was spotted clinging precariously to the bottom branch of a tall white pine tree, some 30 feet above the road.
Minutes after the bear was reported to village police around 4 p.m., a crowd began to gather. Kids and adults stood in the street or along the sidewalk, pointing at and taking pictures of the bear as it sat quietly and looked around. Village police Officer Reyanin Peck tried to keep the crowd at bay until the state Department of Environmental Conservation could get there.
A bear cub perches on a branch of a tall white pine tree on Margaret Street in Saranac Lake Thursday afternoon.
(Enterprise photo — Mike Lynch)
Some people thought the cub had become separated from its mother. Others wondered if it was the same bear that had been spotted Thursday morning near Petrova Elementary School.
The tree the bear was occupying is in the front yard of village Department of Public Works employee Tom Strack's house. Strack said he was at work when he heard what was going on.
"I was told by my boss (DPW Superintendent Jeff Dora) that there was a bear in the tree at 85 Margaret Street," Strack said. "I was like, 'Yeah, right.' He said, 'Seriously, 85 Margaret Street, there's a bunch of people in the road taking pictures of a bear.' I said, 'Jeff, that's my house.' He said, 'Then, you've got a bear in (your) tree.' So I got home, and there were people all around."
Strack said he hasn't seen any bears in the neighborhood before, but plenty of deer.
As Strack spoke, his next-door neighbor, Scott Smith, was taking pictures of the bear from the street.
"I hope they can get him down without hurting him," Smith said. "My biggest thing is I'm worried about the branch breaking from the weight of the bear."
About 45 minutes after the bear was first spotted, state Environmental Conservation Officer Jeff Hovey showed up and asked people to leave the area in the hopes that the bear would come down on its own. Sure enough, that's what happened later that evening.
"He finally got down after dark and went on its way," Melanie Strack, Tom Strack's wife, posted on the Enterprise Facebook page Thursday night. "Good luck little guy. Thanks for making my night!"
Bears showing up in populated areas is something that's been happening more often across upstate New York this summer and fall, including in the Adirondacks.
In the Old Forge area, bears have been breaking into homes and harassing campers; several had to be put down by DEC personnel. A bear broke into a home in Chestertown in late July, and the bear and a homeowner got into a tug of war over a bag of garbage. On Thursday, the same day the young cub was holed up in a tree in Saranac Lake, another bear cub was spotted in several areas around the city of Plattsburgh.
Zoe Smith, who's been involved in black bear education, management and research efforts for the Wildlife Conservation Society's Saranac Lake-based Adirondack Program, was among the neighbors who showed up on Margaret Street Thursday afternoon. She lives nearby and brought her two kids to see the bear.
Smith said all the bear activity in populated areas lately is tied to the animals' natural food sources - green vegetation and berries - being in short supply this year.
"I think this is a particularly bad year in terms of bears trying to look for food because of the dry weather," Smith said. "Generally, there have been bears in communities more than in the past. I'm surprised to see it in Saranac Lake because we never see them like this, although we know they're around."
Smith asked people not to feed bears and said they should bring their bird feeders inside.
"The bear was not in the village looking for handouts," Smith said. "It seemed like it was acting naturally and definitely not in need of any type of human food or bird feed. In fact, that would be a terrible mistake for this young bear."
Contact Chris Knight at 518-891-2600 ext. 24 or firstname.lastname@example.org.