SHIRLEY -- Animal Control Officer Earl Hamel told selectmen Monday night that the most effective and perhaps the only way to get rid of black bears who are visiting local homes is to take down those backyard bird feeders.
Hamel has been tracking six black bears around town and has received calls at all hours, reporting sightings, he said.
As trackers tend to do, Hamel has named his quarry, including Yogi, a huge male black bear he estimates weighs about 600 pounds.
There are two smaller, but still very large males and three females on his watch list, one of which has two cubs, making the bear especially dangerous.
One favored area for the marauding bears is Wayside Trailer Park on Clark Road, where well-stocked bird feeders have been attracting the animals. "Once the bears know the food is there, they keep coming back," he said.
Hamel said he went door to door through the park, asking residents to remove bird food, which wild birds don't need this time of year and might even be harmful, since young birds won't learn to forage for themselves.
Bears target the feeders as an easy food source, he told the Wayside residents. They were very receptive and some even went right out and took down their feeders, he said.
During the winter, when nonmigrating birds do need food, the bears are in hibernation. But during the spring, summer and early fall, bird feeders should be retired, Hamel said. "Some towns have ordinances banning feeders" in certain seasons, he told the board.
The bears get used to the food and less leery of humans as they continue to raid bird feeders, Hamel said. "Yogi is so complacent," he no longer runs away when Hamel yells at him or fires his gun at a nearby tree to scare him off.
Hamel said he's been consulting with the state Division of Fisheries and Wildlife and one of their operatives, who is "doing her thesis" on the subject, has indicated she'd be willing to speak at a public meeting, offering bear facts and avoidance tips.
Frank Esielionis asked about hunting, which Fisheries & Wildlife usually opens up out of season when wild animal populations burgeon, as the black bears have. It's been done, Hamel said, as it has with deer. But hunting bear requires a special permit, with limits set state- wide.
Mostly due to loss of habitat, bears venture closer to human dwellings and if they find food, they just keep coming back, Hamel explained. The best protection is prevention, he concluded. Keep the bears away by storing away the bird feeders until next winter.
Sharing a photo of "Yogi" taken in a back yard at the trailer park, Hamel pointed out how high the bear's seated body reaches on a 10-foot fence behind him. Sitting down, the bear is taller than Hamel, who is 6-foot-2, he said.
Hamel's message was simple: Please, folks, to keep your pets and families safe, take your bird feeders down. You don't want to confront a bear bent on eating your bird food, he said.