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Bear encounters create problems

October 13, 2010
By MIKE LYNCH, News Outdoors Writer
INLET — A nearly 500-pound bear looking for a late-night snack gave 82-year-old Inlet resident Helen Miles the scare of her life.

Miles awoke the night of Sept. 10 to find the large male bear feeding out of her porch refrigerator, just 30 feet from where she had been sleeping.

Miles realized something was awry when she saw the porch light on. Using her walker, she made her way to the kitchen door. When she looked through the window, she saw the large bear standing on its hind legs, reaching up to some upper shelves, where he was in the process of knocking over some pizza pans. The animal had inadvertently pulled out the cord to the ceiling light above the washing machine.

“I’ll tell you, he was a biggie,” she said “He had a rump on him like — wow!”

Scared for her safety, Miles went back to her bedroom and grabbed her 20-gauge shotgun.

She then sat down and stationed herself behind the kitchen table, 10 feet from the bear. She said she didn’t feel safe hiding, so she waited with the gun pointed at the door in case the animal entered.

“If you think I didn’t sit here with a gun in my hand, you’re crazy,” said Miles, a former deer hunter. “If he would have come through that door, I would have blasted him.”

But the bear was focused on the food and never tried to enter the main part of her home. Instead, the bear finished off her ice cream, gravy and anything else he could fit into his large stomach, and left without incident.

Shortly after, at about 2 a.m., Environmental Conservation Officer K.C. Kelly, who Miles had called, showed up at her door. He stayed with the shaken Miles and comforted her for about an hour before he decided to leave.

“She’s a tough old bird, but having a bear in your house would rattle anybody,” Kelly said. “Her knees were knocking together, so I just kind of calmed her down and got the gun away from her.”

Miles said that night was the bear’s third visit. The previous visit, she said, “he ate a dozen eggs, pound of butter, pound of margarine, pound of lard and some cheese.” And that’s just what Miles could recall off the top of her head.

Originally, Miles said she thought the nuisance animal was a raccoon or a weasel. Other than making a mess, the bear didn’t do much damage. He left some scratches on the door frame, knocked over boxes, spilled some food and got mud prints on the washing machine.

But in hindsight, what bothered Miles was that she had been sleeping with the door wide open the nights leading up to the incidents. Had she done that one of those nights the bear got on her porch, it may have wandered into her home.

“He might’ve come right in, maybe give me a hug,” Miles said with a laugh.

Bad ending for the bear

Unfortunately for the bear, the ending wasn’t so light-hearted. On Saturday, Sept. 11, the day after the bear’s third and final raid, wildlife technicians from the state Department of Environmental Conservation set up a trap for him. They caught him two days later and euthanized him because he was a home-invasion bear that had become conditioned to eat human food — before getting into Miles’ house.

“That’s our policy when a bear breaks into a home; we deem it a threat to human safety,” said Ed Reed, a wildlife biologist with DEC Region 5.

Strangely enough, it turned out the bear already had a bullet wound in the back of his head, Kelly said.

In general, the DEC doesn’t euthanize many bears for this particular circumstance because it doesn’t happen a lot. Reed said bear home break-ins are reported two or three times annually in Region 5. Sometimes that results in a bear being euthanized.

The only other bear killed this year by DEC Region 5 was on Aug. 26 at Eighth Lake Campground in Inlet.

Although there were a number of complaints in Inlet and Old Forge this year, it wasn’t as bad as in years past. DEC Region 6 didn’t have to euthanize any bears this year after having to kill four for various reasons in 2009.

Traditionally, the Inlet and Old Forge corridor has had serious problems with bears. DEC believes that a big reason for the history of bear problems is that people are either feeding them intentionally or incidentally. This can cause the bears to become conditioned to eat human food and sometimes lose their fear of people.

“That Inlet/Old Forge corridor has been a problem,” Reed said. “Last year and this year, that’s where our complaints have been in that one corridor. Throughout the rest of the Park (it hasn’t been bad). Clinton County, I think we may have had one complaint this year. But Hamilton (County) is like 20-something. That just points out that it’s bears that are conditioned to do that. There’s not more bears down there for them. It’s just that there’s food available so they get into things.”

Those Hamilton County complaints Reed mentioned were things such as bears getting into bird feeders, garbage, homes, hit by cars or other interactions with people that were considered negative. Those 20-something complaints didn’t include those that occurred in Old Forge because that’s Region 6 and Reed didn’t have those numbers.

But they happen there. Carolyn Wilsey, who lives in Old Forge, said she has had her own problems with bears. Five years ago, one got into a little fight with her 15-pound schnauzer. The bear put four holes in the dog’s back and took a chunk out of its thigh, but the small animal survived. This year, because bears continued to get into garage looking for food, her husband Charles started to bring garbage directly to the dump, not giving bears and other animals the opportunity to get into it.

Wilsey said some tourists and seasonal camp owners in the area feed bears intentionally, or incidentally, by leaving garbage out.

“People who come up as tourists love to see the wild animals, so they deliberately put things out,” Wilsey said. “It’s against the law, but they deliberately put food out in the camping campgrounds. And if they see a bear, they’ll walk right up to it and take a chance. It’s just a matter of the bears wanting food, and it’s lot easier. They like people food.”

Steve Herkins, a DEC Region 6 wildlife biologist, agreed that some people still intentionally feed animals, including bears.

“There are people who drive up to Old Forge to see bears, or expect to, and if it means they have to hold a marshmallow outside the car window, they are going to do it,” said Herkins, who noted he has “bumped into bears in every corner” of Old Forge.

There are also some locals who intentionally give bears human food, such as jelly doughnuts, bagels and sugar cereal. Inlet resident Willie Cannova has been ticketed numerous times in recent years for feeding bears. He was found guilty of feeding bears in September 2009, but apparently that didn’t stop him. He was arrested in August of this year for the same thing.

Reed said it might be just coincidence, or maybe not, but Cannova is only a few miles from Miles’ home. The bears he was feeding may be the ones that had to be euthanized this year, Reed suggested.

“Right after he got arrested and was in jail, of course, he couldn’t feed bears, and we had that bear and the bear in Eighth Lake Campground that had to be killed,” Reed said. “His feeding really draws them into town and gets them used to them being around people.”

Despite those problems, Herkins and Kelly said things are improving. Many businesses, homeowners and even the state campgrounds have made efforts to bear-proof their garbage. And the DEC, along with groups such as the Wildlife Conservation Society, have made efforts to educate the public about not feeding bears.

“That’s what it all comes down to — education,” Kelly said.

Article Photos

Mike Lynch/Lake Placid News
Inlet resident Helen Miles sits at her kitchen table, demonstrating how she held a gun pointed at her porch door after a bear broke into her home in September.



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