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Summertime advice: Do not feed bears or birds (at all)

From the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife

-- This spring, the Maine's Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife is strongly encouraging homeowners to not feed birds and to take food odor prevention steps around their properties to deter bears that could become a nuisance or danger.

Bears have recently emerged from dens throughout Maine and are in search of food that not readily available to them at this time of year. They are drawn to bird feeders, garbage cans, dumpsters and grills - where food or the odor of food is prevalent - or to areas where people believe it's OK to leave food for them.

For birds, however, spring and summer offers an abundance of natural food and they don't need to be fed by people.

"Each spring, we encourage people to bring in their bird feeders and rake up any seed left on the ground," Jennifer Vashon, wildlife biologist, said. "If people want to continue to feed birds, we ask them to wait until berries have ripened later in the summer when bears are less likely to wander through backyards searching for food. The best way to keep bears in the wild is to not make it easy for them to make themselves at home in your backyard.

"It is also important to remember that other food odors attract bears to your back yard," Vashon added. "Garbage brought to the curb the night before pickup or stored outside is a great temptation to a bear. We encourage people to keep garbage inside until the morning of trash pickup."

Bears that become reliant on people for food return to the same locations to eat.

"The worst case scenario is a bear will hurt someone," Vashon said. "It's happened elsewhere and it could happen here. In this unfortunate circumstance, we'd have to destroy the bear."

Spring is when the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife and the Warden Service receives hundreds of nuisance animal complaints, and bears near homes and in neighborhoods are among the calls.

The Department strongly encourages people not to feed birds in the spring and summer. Birds are able for find food elsewhere. The Department discourages leaving feeders out during the day and bringing in the feeders at night, and asks that residents rake up all of the food underneath a bird feeder site so bears are not drawn to it.

To deter bears, store garbage and garbage cans in the garage or basement until trash day, and put out the cans the mornings of pickup. Also, nothing with a strong food odor should be composted in the back yard.

For grills, burn off the meat and grease and brush or scrape grills clean and store in a closed garage or shed. Use dumpsters with heavy metal lids that latch shut. Keep the lids and self-closing doors shut. If garbage is overflowing, contact the trash hauler to pick it up.

Those who feed pets outdoors should take the food dishes inside at night.  Livestock feeds should be stored in a secure location, and neighbors can encourage each other to take the same steps to deter bears.

When camping, food and items with odors, including candy, toothpaste, suntan lotion and soap, should be stored in sealed containers. If camping near a vehicle, keep the sealed containers in it. Never store food or candy in a tent or sleeping quarters. If food or other scented items cannot be stored, place them in a bear bag at least 12 feet above the ground and 10 feet from the nearest tree trunk.

After meals, store leftovers and immediately wash dishes. Dump the dishwater away from the camp or use a sump hole to filter the water, and then burn the food scraps. Carefully burn all leftover food, wrappers and grease. Don't bury them or throw them in a latrine.

If a bear shows up in the backyard, stay calm and shout at it as though is an unwanted dog.  Most bears are timid enough to be frightened away by yelling, waving or banging pots. Check first before going outside. Black bears blend into night skies, providing the chance of an encounter. Use outside lights to full advantage and look outside from a safe position, such as a porch or window, and never approach a bear.