Move over, Johnston turkey – another denizen of the wild is capturing Rhode Island’s attention.
A recent spate of black bear sightings in residential areas was taken to a new level Monday, as the appearance of a bear on the grounds of Cranston’s Hope Highlands Middle School led to a “shelter in place” advisory being issued.
It was a precautionary move, as students were allowed to move freely while indoors and were not believed to be in danger. But given the sensitivity surrounding issues of school security these days, it was impossible to ignore.
Spring black bear sightings around Rhode Island have become frequent in recent years, and this season has been no different. On Sunday, a bear was seen on the porch of a Warwick home. There have also been sightings in Johnston and other communities – including in Narragansett, where a bear peering into a woman’s vehicle and was captured in an image that was widely circulated on social media.
In response to the latest high-profile bear sightings – which stem from growing bear populations in Massachusetts and Connecticut – the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management has provided guidance to residents in homes of preventing the four-legged visitors from becoming a “nuisance” in local neighborhoods.
In a nutshell? Make sure your property is not a potential food source for black bears.
As Charlie Brown, a wildlife biologist with the agency, noted: “There is no reason for a bear to be close to houses unless there is something to eat there.”
DEM asks residents to removed birdfeeders and other potential food sources for bears from their yards between the months of April and November. Other steps include refraining from feeding pets outdoors, keeping grills clean and putting garbage out on the morning of pickup rather than the night before.
It is also important to remember that while the sight of such a large animal so close to home may be frightening, black bears are – as DEM puts it – “generally shy and secretive, and usually fearful of humans.”
Their presence becomes problematic – and their fear subsides – only when they “become dependent on backyard food sources,” according to the agency.
We join DEM in asking residents of our communities to be “bear aware” in the weeks to come. Doing so will help protect both our communities and the bears, which are protected animals.
Find more information at dem.ri.gov.