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Adirondack Residents Loaded For Bear Against Nuisance Creatures

September 14, 1995

INDIAN LAKE, N.Y. (AP) _ That the bear walked through _ literally through _ the back screen door late one night was bad enough.

But then the beast somehow nudged the kitchen light on, ate a chocolate cake on the counter and pulled the silverware drawer out so hard he broke it and sent utensils crashing. Jarred from their sleep, the Fish family came downstairs to a kitchen that looked like it was hit by a hurricane, complete with ``precipitation″ on the floor.

``My wife was barefoot and stepped in it,″ Terry Fish said, recalling that he was so angry he wanted to shoot the bear as it lumbered away through the backyard.

As black bear season opens Sunday in the Adirondacks, there’s a lot of that sentiment around. More bears and fewer natural food sources have driven the animals out of the woods to satisfy their hunger. Tents have been shredded, garbage cans tipped and cars ventilated.

Local officials are fed up, complaining that public safety is at stake and that campers and tourists are getting spooked.

``If you come across a 500-pound bear by yourself and you’re 10 or 15 feet away, it’s not a good feeling and it’s not good for business,″ Indian Lake supervisor Dick Purdue said.

Town officials originally wanted to place a $50 bounty on nuisance bears but withdrew the proposal after threats of legal action. Still on the table is an only slightly less controversial measure from the Hamilton County Board of Supervisors that asks state environmental officials to allow out-of-season hunting and the use of bait and dogs to hunt bear.

It’s a declaration of war against a formidable foe.

Curious, strong, persistent and huge, bears can be very determined when it comes to food. Teeth become can openers. Claws attack coolers like they were peanuts to be shelled. And if a bear spots food in a car, windows have been smashed and doors have been ripped open.

``A bear doesn’t distinguish between a large log that it rips apart for grubs and a car it rips apart for a cooler,″ said Bob Inslerman, regional wildlife manager for the state Department of Environmental Conservation. ``The bear doesn’t know it’s doing anything wrong.″

Mike Vilegi, a caretaker at Marcy Dam in the Adirondack High Peaks region, saw one bear this summer balance his body lengthwise on a cable strung across a stream just to reach a food-filled pack hanging on it. He saw another steal and then swig an entire wine box, then walk away unfazed.

Inslerman said it’s a big year for black bear complaints in an Adirondack area that includes Herkimer and Hamilton counties, as well as popular tourist destinations like Lake Placid. The Adirondack bear population is thought to be at a high of more than 3,500.

Bear problems were exacerbated this June by a dry spell, which affected typical bear foods like grasses and succulents. The bears struck out for populated areas.

Landfills are always a gold mine for hungry bears, but in Indian Lake the town sealed off its dump with an electronic fence. Ever resourceful bears in that area have taken to dumpster diving, can picking and, of course, breaking and entering. Others have taken to trails and campsites.

Forest workers have tried to keep them away through ``negative conditioning″ _ using pepper spray or rubber buckshot on the animals to make them shy away from human contact. They’ve even tried bait balls of cayenne peppers coated in honey, but Vilegi saw firsthand how useless it was against one bear.

``When he got to the pepper, he just kind of made a face and kept chewing it,″ Vilegi said.

Some seasonal relief should be on the way. Fall is a time when a bear’s fancy turns away from hamburgers to black cherries and beech nuts, foods that prep them for winter’s big sleep. Also, reports of the bountiful bear population are expected to lure a lot of hunters to the Adirondacks this fall.

But what about next summer? Few residents are eager for another season of bear encounters. Purdue said the only solution appears to be reducing the bear population. That’s why the Hamilton County board has asked the state to use bait and dogs to hunt down bears and kill bears, if necessary.

Environmental groups have countered that there are better ways to control nuisance bears than killing them. The concept of chasing bears up trees with packs of dogs is one that especially angers many environmental groups. The practice is illegal in New York state to all but the DEC, and agency workers can only use it in nuisance situations.

John Samatulski of Environmental Advocates said the DEC could best control problem bear through powers they already have. He would like to see the agency better enforce rules against feeding bears, relocate problem bears and step up educational efforts.

Lou Berchielli, black bear specialist for DEC, notes that relocation efforts rarely work because bears just come back or others take their place.

Bear control often boils down to garbage control, Berchielli said, because the animals simply don’t spend time where there’s no way to get at food. Berchielli said he likes to get that message out early in the season, before bears learn how to rip through screen doors.

``It’s so much easier to deal with this early on, when the bears are starting to move around in the spring,″

End Adv For Weekend Editions Sept. 16-17

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