The Pound Ridge Land Conservancy co-sponsored a discussion about black bears and their visible local presence during the environmental group’s annual volunteer recruitment night last week.
“Everybody’s been interested in what’s going on with the black bears here,” said Pound Ridge Land Steward Andrew Morgan. Attendees heard from Budd Veverka, preserve manager and staff biologist at Mianus River Gorge and the event’s co-sponsor.
Mr. Veverka recently finished a three-year study of bear occurrences and movements in Westchester, Putnam and Fairfield counties, which he conducted with other staff members of Mianus River Gorge. The research will help the Mianus River Gorge and its partners, including PRLC, to learn more about where bears reside, how they move across the landscape, and where they are likely to settle down and breed.
Early in the study during spring 2017, the research project’s remote cameras captured 1,225 images of approximately 20 different bears, all within 20 miles of Pound Ridge. Mr. Veverka and his research team also relied on submissions of sightings from the public. That year team members received reports of local bear activity at Ward Pound Ridge Reservation, Bob Hill Road, Mianus River Road and East Middle Patent Road. Research results for 2018 and 2019 are still being processed, but Mr. Veverka shared images taken during that time of the study showing bear activity once again in the area of Bob Hill Road, off a trail at Ward Pound Ridge Reservation, and near a den located in Mianus River Gorge. A black bear also was spotted at the Leon Levy Preserve in South Salem in 2019.
“The area around Pound Ridge has a number of transient bears moving through during the year, with, we suspect, a few resident bears,” Mr. Veverka said. Although bear wanderings have only gradually expanded to Westchester and Fairfield counties, and there currently are no permanent breeding populations in the area, each year brings with it more sightings. “It’s only a matter of time,” Mr. Veverka said. “We have expansion literally annually.”
In an interview this week, Mr. Veverka said black bear range expansion was no cause for concern. Unlike the grizzly bears out West, the black bears in the Eastern United States are rarely aggressive and generally avoid confrontation. “Most of the time they’re going to want to escape people,” he said. Even so, Mr. Veverka said hikers in the region “need to be conscious of bears” particularly between April and June when they are feeding after hibernation. If a hiker encounters a bear, Mr. Veverka advised to remain calm, make your presence known by shouting or waving your arms, and slowly leave the area. Also, he advised pet owners keep their dogs leashed on the trails or in the woods.
Homeowners in the area need to be on alert as well, given the expansion of bears into residential areas. “The best course of action is prevention,” Mr. Veverka said. Aim to either take down or relocate your bird feeders by April 1 and through Dec. 1. Bird feed is “the number one draw for a bear to a residential area in the U.S.,” Mr. Veverka said. To avoid bear activity, mount the bird feeder off a porch or otherwise adjacent location to the house while avoiding the property’s edge, especially those abutting woods or water.
Prevention is key, Mr. Veverka said, because once a bear finds your bird feeder, “they will find your grill, and then they’ll take apart your garbage, and then they’ll take apart your pool and your swing set.”
If a bear does find its way to your yard, scare it away by banging on pots and pans, jingling keys or ringing a bell, he warned. But don’t turn on the sprinklers because, he explained, “getting a bath while eating, that’s just a bear’s dream.” If a bear should enter your home, give the animal an escape route, back away slowly to a secure space and call local authorities, in addition to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. This situation is rare, Mr. Veverka said, but illustrates “what we’re trying to avoid with all bears and why we’re trying to live with them the right way.”
The Mianus River Gorge plans to renew its study of bear movements and determine where to place cameras in the next several years. In the meantime, residents can report any sightings and reports of damage to the Department of Environmental Conservation at 845-256-3098; reports of sightings help the state assess bear populations in the state and obtain federal funding for animal conservation. Residents can also send a report of any bear encounters to Mianus River Gorge at H2Hbears@gmail.com or call 234-3455. Sighting can also be reported using the iNaturalist app or iSeeMammals app.