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 visiting homes recently is to take down 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 more 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 favorite area for the 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, and asked residents to remove bird food, which wild birds don't need this time of year.
He added that it might be harmful, since young birds may not learn to forage for themselves.
Bears target the feeders as an easy food source, he told the Wayside residents. Hamel said residents were receptive and some went right out and took down their feeders.
During the winter, when nonmigrating birds 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.
Hamel said "Yogi is so complacent" that 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'd been consulting with the state division of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and said one of its operatives, doing a thesis on the subject, indicated she'd be willing to speak at a public meeting to offer bear facts and avoidance tips.
Frank Esielionis asked about hunting, which Fish and Wildlife usually opens 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 statewide.
Bears venture closer to human dwellings mostly due to loss of habitat. If they find food, they keep coming back, Hamel said.
The best protection is prevention, he said, adding people can keep the bears away by storing the bird feeders away until next winter.
Sharing a photo of Yogi taken in a backyard at the trailer park, Hamel pointed out how high the bear's seated body reaches on a 10-foot-high-fence behind him. Sitting down, the bear is taller than Hamel, who is 6 feet 2 inches, he said.
You don't want to confront a bear bent on eating your bird food, said Hamel.