Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Bears In The Back Yard

The recent spate of bear sightings in Harding, NJ—one of the ten towns within the Great Swamp Watershed—put us in mind of a story one of our volunteers wrote for our last print newsletter.  In that piece, our volunteer, Jim Northrop, spins a tale about an imaginary encounter with a mother bear during one of his visits to GSWA's offices on Tempe Wick Road in Morristown.  As the fantasy unfolds, Jim takes the opportunity to relay some important information and insights about the ever-increasing frequency of interaction between bears and people in our region.

The story—which was inspired by a real-life bear encounter here at GSWA's offices over the summer—is reprinted here for you to read.  We hope you enjoy it!


Meet The New Neighbors
by Jim Northrop 


I am a GSWA volunteer.  Last week we had an early evening meeting.  It was hot and sticky; dusk had come as the meeting adjourned.  As I walked out of the GSWA building toward my car, I noticed a large black object up the hill near the woods.  O. M. G. ----- it was a large black bear sniffing her way toward our garbage cans.  I remembered that the night before, we had been guests here at a GSWA volunteer appreciation party.  Pizza was the main culinary attraction, and discarded pizza boxes (holding a few bits of uneaten pizza crust) would have smelled good even to me!

I froze, and the bear cautiously came closer.  I know that black bears are fast runners, even though they are the largest land mammal in New Jersey —in fact, I am told they can overtake a running deer when they want to.  I did not want to give the bear any cause for attacking me.  I stood frozen and still.

A few steps later the bear stopped, looked at me and said, “I smell pizza.  Can we share?”  

By this time I was the only volunteer around—the others had gone home.  I wished for someone else there who could assure me that the heat had not made me crazy.  Could this really be a talking bear?!!

Then I heard the bear speak again.

“I have two cubs with me, and my job is to teach them how to live off the land.  They know about berries and small succulent plants, but they have never heard of pizza.  I’m going to call them over.  Please do not spoil their lesson by yelling at them or throwing something at us.”

 I did not have to be told twice.  I knew that a mother black bear will get very violent, if necessary, to protect her young cubs.  So, I just stood there quietly and watched.  Oh, how I wished I had brought a camera!

Ten minutes later, they had shredded the pizza boxes and feasted on every last crust they could find.  The mother bear looked over at me and saw that I was not a threat, so she began a conversation.

“I’m new to these parts,” she said.  “I grew up in Sussex County, but recently there’s been so much residential development up there.  A lot of new bears have moved in too.  I had to find a new home.  I had to go where the people had not yet thought to guard their garbage from curious, hungry animals like me.  So, here I am, and I am loving it!”  

Remembering that a black bear’s choice of home range is largely determined by the types and availability of food, I wondered what she liked to eat when no pizza crusts were handy.

“Well,” she said, “most of the time I eat plants—especially their berries, fruit and nuts—but, I also like insects.  You know, finding an ant hill is really a treat.”

“I also like mice and other small mammals, and delicacies like the white-tailed deer carcass I found the other day.”

“I do not come across those tasty bits very often, but I am not choosy—any fresh roadkill will do just fine.  But, I am getting a bit spoiled from so much food.  You humans call it garbage, but I think it’s great!“

“My cubs have begun to associate garbage with people—not that they want to actually eat people, but if they smell humans around they assume that some tasty ‘garbage’ is nearby.”

“Sometimes this creates a problem.  When my cubs approach, people get frightened.  They think the cubs will try to make them their meal.  You see, sometimes bears are completely misunderstood.”

I felt sorry for the bear and her cubs.  After all, humans also get into trouble by misunderstanding the intentions of others.

“I am sorry you can’t be spared this grief,” I said, “but you should know that there are conservationists around who want to end the misunderstanding between people and bears.  They get other people to stop leaving their food and garbage around outside as ‘bait’.  In fact, in New Jersey, people can be punished with a fine for feeding the bears.”

“That’s very kind,” she said with a smile, “except that educating will mean no more pizza!”

“My favorite food is not really pizza, anyway.  I love finding a good-sized beehive.  You see, my fur is bee proof, and the occasional sting on the nose is well worth the sweet honey I usually find inside.”

About then, I noticed a very large shadow moving toward us from the woods.  The black bear noticed it, too, and told me that it was her mate coming from another part of the woods.  He was coming to investigate all the commotion.

The appearance of the second bear did not surprise me much.  You see, I had read once that black bears have a remarkable sense of smell, and that they have been known to smell a source of food more than two miles away.  They are also known for their good hearing and can see very well; although, they are said to be a bit near-sighted.  Their ability to see in color helps them forage for those fruits and berries they like so much.

As her mate approached, my new friend said, “I have to go.”

“My mate gets very upset when we do not save some good food for him, and my cubs and I have licked this area clean!”

As she turned to leave, I waved her a goodbye and wished her family a safe journey.


No comments:

Post a Comment