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Vermont Bears Emboldened By 'Stay Home, Stay Safe'

Vermont has seen and increase in bear sightings this year. Wildlife biologist Forrest Hammond gives an update on the bear population, and suggests ways to keep them out of your yard.
Tony's Takes

Spotting a bear in a Vermont town isn't really newsworthy, but it appears that at least some of Vermont's bears are feeling emboldened by Governor Scott's recent "stay at home, stay safe" order, which they're interpreting as something that only applies to humans. We talk to state game warden Dave Taddei about one particular bear and its recent travels through downtown Bellows Falls.

Our guest is:

  • Dave Taddei, state game warden in Bellows Falls with the Vermont Department of Fish and Wildlife

Broadcast live at 1 p.m. on Tuesday, April 28; rebroadcast at 8 p.m.

The following has been edited and condensed for clarity and brevity.

Jane Lindholm: Normally, a bear in Bellows Falls wouldn’t be such a big deal. But this one that the state put a press release out about was it was right downtown, which is somewhat unusual. Can you tell us about it?

Dave Taddei: It was actually going down to the area that's called The Square, which is basically the downtown area. And it's been going down there pretty regularly, later in the evening, around 8 or 9 p.m.

It was getting into bird feeders. It’s kind of an urban area down there, with a lot of residents stacked pretty close together. And a lot of people apparently had bird feeders out. I think that was one of the main things that attracted it to the downtown area.

People who live in bear country are strongly advised not to have bird feeders up at all. But it sounds like these were not residents who were accustomed to having bears.

Dave Taddei: Right. And I think with the lack of traffic that's been going on, that bears have felt a little bit emboldened to venture into the downtown area. It seems to be, you know, pretty busy around 8 or 9 p.m. But now you drive down there, and there are not a lot of people.

The initial press release that you guys sent out was saying this is not a “problem bear.” It's probably just out and about because there aren't many people out and about.

But since then, this young bear has done something that is causing problems. So it's sort of changed the category of this bear from just an interesting story, to a nuisance bear. Is that right? If so, what does that mean for this bear?

Dave Taddei: Yeah. It did get into some honey hives last night or the night before. So that kind of has upped the damage ante a little bit for this bear.

Statutorily, a bear can be killed for damaging property. The property owner would need to take a reasonable, nonlethal measure to secure the beehives or whatever property has been damaged, before the bear could be killed.

It sounds like it's a young bear. If in the future, people are out and about again, or the property owner can take some measures to scare it off, might that be enough?

Dave Taddei: This bear is it still afraid of people from everything that I've seen. It ran away from the people with the beehives. The woman just inadvertently let her dogs out at the same time and the bear took off, and there was no electric fencing around the beehive.

"It did get into some honey hives last night or the night before. So that kind of has upped the damage ante a little bit for this bear." - Dave Taddei, Game Warden in Bellows Falls

First and foremost, I think electric fencing around that hive and others in the area will solve that problem pretty easily. Taking the bird feeders down will help, and if you do see the bear, just yell out and scare it. I think that'll just kind of reinforce the fact that humans should be avoided. And I think we'll hopefully go in the right direction.

Some bears do get this sort of celebrity status. Do you ever have trouble with people feeding them? How can people be respectful of bears that they see annually?

Dave Taddei: Something we run into quite often is people intentionally feeding bears. People put birdseed out on the ground for the bears and popcorn out.

We all love to see bears. We love Vermont. We love the wildlife. But intentionally feeding bears is never a good thing. It does not end well for the bears because they then think that, oh, every house is a great place to go get food. It's also illegal so you can be criminally charged for intentionally feeding bears.

What should someone do if they see a bear?

Dave Taddei: Slowly back away and talk to it in a calm voice. It should go the other way. And if it does start to advance towards you, that's when you want to, you know, raise your arms over your head, make a lot of noise and yell, “Hey, bear!” or something like that to try to try to scare it off.

Have we ever had a bear attack in Vermont?

Dave Taddei: We have never had a documented bear attack in Vermont.

So what should people do to protect bears in their environment while maintaining our respectful social distancing from them?

Dave Taddei: The best thing that you can do is to keep your yard clean. Take your bird feeders in when the Fish and Wildlife Department recommends it. Securing the trash is also key, and if you've got livestock, make sure you're keeping that area clean by not leaving a lot of grain around and keep electric fencing with a minimum of 8,000 volts around your beehives.

Jane Lindholm is the host, executive producer and creator of But Why: A Podcast For Curious Kids. In addition to her work on our international kids show, she produces special projects for Vermont Public. Until March 2021, she was host and editor of the award-winning Vermont Public program Vermont Edition.
Matt Smith worked for Vermont Public from 2017 to 2023 as managing editor and senior producer of Vermont Edition.
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