Bearglary In Progress
Written by NYS ENCON Police Lt. Matthew Clemens
Little did we know that 2018 would be a record year for black bear calls in northern New York. It all started on May 12th when New York Environmental Conservation Officer (ECO) Keith Kelly received a voicemail from a resident in Hamilton County. It was one of the first calls of the season regarding black bear activity. The caller reported a sow and two cubs hanging around his chickens and pigs, and fortunately the bears had not caused any problems.
Over the next couple of weeks in May there was a spike in nuisance bear calls throughout the Adirondacks and at the foothills of the Adirondack Mountains. Nothing out of the ordinary for the local ECOs though. Bird feeders and garbage inadvertently left out – the typical calls that are handled each year by wildlife staff and Officers. The calls didn’t let up though and became regular. On June 1st, a call from a resident of Hamilton County that had dispatched a bear breaking into his chicken coop. A few days later a second bear dispatched by another resident, again entering a chicken coop. Reports then surfaced of an ear-tagged bear coming onto porches regularly in the northern part of Hamilton County, seemingly unafraid of people and difficult to frighten off (ear tags indicate the bear has already been trapped by wildlife staff normally because of previous undesired behavior).
Due to weather conditions the natural mast crop was almost non-existent in many areas. Because of this we had a suspicion that bears would be more active searching for food, but this hunch became a realization as more calls came in. The Department of Environmental Conservation’s (DEC) wildlife staff in Ray Brook started to send regular updates for our area. Every report seemed to have the same details – large bears, bird feeders, garbage, reluctant to leave. Reports of bears, with and without ear-tags, were becoming more common including reports of these bears breaking into dwellings and hanging around summer camps. On June 23rd, ECOs Keith Kelly and Nathan Favreau had euthanized a bear that had broken into a dining hall at the Raquette Lake Girls Camp and chased off a second bear in the same area. By this time, ECOs were working long days and nights trying to stay current with the uptick in activity. Multiple culvert traps had been deployed throughout Hamilton County and surrounding areas to capture these bears. Break-ins of numerous occupied dwellings in Hamilton County continued to be reported with a number of ear-tagged bears being confirmed by homeowners.
As July progressed we were hoping the natural food sources would blossom and curb some of the bear activity. Resources and staffing began to get prioritized on the more serious issues – Class one bears that had entered occupied dwellings in search of food, and most of the time were successful in obtaining a food reward. Culvert traps continued to be re-deployed at strategic locations with ECOs constantly checking them and conducting patrols around the clock. To complicate things, we received a few calls on July 26th of presumed bear break-ins on the north east side of Raquette Lake near Bluff, a location accessible only by boat. As with all the bears euthanized up to this point these new reports were no different.