By Hiroko Sato
GROTON -- Kristin Cianci is wondering if she and fellow residents of the Deerhaven subdivision off Route 40 should rename their neighborhood Bearhaven.
Their backyards are becoming black bears' favorite playgrounds. The mighty creatures saunter across the lawns, stop to snack on berries and wander off into the thickets of trees, Cianci said.
Don't assume they are nocturnal. Early afternoon is Cianci's best bet for spotting one on her block.
The bears aren't just visiting the neighborhood, according to Marion Larson, chief of information and education for the state Division of Fisheries and Wildlife (MassWildlife). The bears live there.
There weren't many bears living in Massachusetts some decades ago when hunters were using dogs and baiting to catch them. When it became illegal to use such hunting techniques in Massachusetts in 1970, the state knew only 100 bears were left. The population has bounced back since then, and a state survey conducted in 2008 showed up to 4,000 bears were now living in Massachusetts.
As the trend continues, they are increasingly moving into eastern parts of the state, including Middlesex County, Central Massachusetts and Southern New Hampshire in search of new homes.
That explains why so many people are seeing bears in Groton, Westford and some surrounding communities this fall, Larson said. In fact, the sudden increase in bear sightings has prompted Nashua River Watershed Association to hold a workshop on bears with MassWildlife biologist Trina Moruzzi as the lecturer, according to NRWA Development and Outreach Associate Pam Gilfillan. Scheduled for Nov. 21 from 7 to 9 p.m. at the NRWA office at 592 Main St. in Groton. Workshop participants will learn about black bears' habits and habitats as well as what to do when you meet a bear and how to coexist with the animal. MassWildlife staff also gave a talk in Westford last Thursday to share the knowledge with residents.
Bear sightings are more common in fall because they are actively looking for food to build up fat before going into hibernation, according to Larson. Across Groton, people have run into bears while walking a dog or pulling into their driveways over the past few weeks.
Cianci has, so far, seen a bear twice. The first one, spotted at about 1:30 p.m. nearly two weeks ago, casually walked toward the nearby woods, ignoring barking dogs and homeowners trying to hurry their pets into their houses, she said. She came upon a bear again last Monday at about 1:40 p.m. while inside her car. Hearing the noise of the car, the bear began to walk away. But as she stopped to take photos of the bear, it turned around and started to walk toward her, Cianci said.
"When I drove off, I looked and saw him sitting on his butt eating berries off a tree by the curb of the road. It was quite a sight to see," Cianci wrote in an email to The Sun.
Another Groton resident caught a bear peering into the house through a window while she stood inside the residence. Some people excitedly report such encounters while others are growing weary of coming across bears in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Don Poutry, of Pepperell, is one of those thrilled to find a bear in the backyard. His wife was looking out of the kitchen window just before dark on Nov. 2 when she noticed a black bear standing on two feet and grabbing onto a bird feeder hanging from a tree by the driveway. It was the couple's first time seeing a bear, Poutry said.
"I refilled the bird feeder, hoping to see it again, but so far just birds and squirrels," Poutry said in his email to The Sun.
Larson said the state is trying to discourage people from leaving food out for bears.
"Bears will associate people and houses with food. It's really not a good idea for them to be depending on that kind of food and for them to get that used to people," Larson said. Wild animals that are used to humans can pose more of a threat to people, and that increases the chance of them having to be destroyed, Larson said.
For more information about dealings with bears, visit http://www.mass.gov/eea/docs/dfg/dfw/wildlife/wildlife-living/living-with-bears.pdf.
To register for the NRWA workshop on bears, contact Gilfillan at (978) 448-0299 or PamG@NashuaRiverWatershed.org.