A couple weeks ago, Johnstown resident Mark Wilson saw something he didn’t expect in his back yard on Falcon Crest Drive – a black bear.
“I go out on my back deck and there he is, lying out like a big dog,” Wilson said.
The bear eventually left, but it was the second time a bear was spotted in his neighborhood this season, Wilson said.
He has a newborn child and two other children who play outside regularly, and he is concerned.
“When this happened the second time, my wife wouldn’t even let the kids go outside to play,” Wilson said.
Wilson isn’t the only one who’s concerned about the black bears.
The state Department of Environmental Conservation also is taking notice of the black bear population and the bears’ intrusion into rural and residential areas.
“We have experienced an increase in bear complaints the past few years, particularly in DEC Regions 3 and 4. This area includes the Capital District, Catskills and Hudson Valley,” DEC spokeswoman Wendy Rosenbach said.
Specific numbers were unavailable, but according to the DEC, there has been an increase in black bears from the Catskills and Adirondacks going into the Mohawk Valley, which typically does not see black bears.
The DEC reported New York’s black bear population is estimated at a minimum of 6,000 to 8,000 in areas open to hunting. Roughly 50 percent to 60 percent of the bears inhabit the Adirondack region.
In addition, bears are now in other areas, including the Tug Hill, Hudson Valley and across the Southern Tier. Transient bears are routinely encountered throughout the Lake Ontario Plains, Mohawk Valley and St. Lawrence Valley. With the exception of Tug Hill, these other areas include agricultural or residential areas.
Wilson of Johnstown said a black bear was first seen in his neighborhood roughly three weeks ago.
“The first time I was alerted to the bear, my neighbor sent me a text at 5:30 in the morning, saying there was a bear out in [the neighbor’s backyard],” Wilson said.
The bear had gotten into a bird feeder, eating seeds.
Wilson didn’t see the bear, but a week later, he saw a bear sitting in his back yard.
In June, the Fulton County Sheriff’s Office reported a motorcyclist, Ricky A. Boyer Jr., 39, of Johnstown, was badly injured after he collided with a bear on Route 29.
Someone also reported seeing a bear in Gloversville in June near the intersection of East Boulevard and North Boulevard, Gloversville police said.
According to the DEC, bears spend much of their time looking for food, and people often provide them with easy sources such as garbage, bird seed and pet food.
Once a bear gets used to obtaining food from humans, it is nearly impossible to break the habit, the DEC says.
New hunting rules
The DEC recently announced new hunting regulations to help curb the bear problem.
“Expanded hunting opportunities will both help reduce the black bear population and bear-human issues/interactions that New Yorkers have been experiencing,” Rosenbach said.
These regulations establish bear hunting seasons in all of upstate New York, create a special early firearms season, lasting from Sept. 6 to 21, for bears in specific parts of the Catskills and western Hudson Valley region, and provide a uniform start date, Sept. 13, for bow hunting and early firearms bear season in the northern zone, which includes part of Fulton County.
John Havelick, owner of Frank’s Guns and Tackle in Broadalbin, said the regulations affect the western portions of the state more than the local area.
“Middle of September always had a bear season,” said John Havelick’s brother Frank Havelick, who works at the shop.
The Havelicks said they have heard from hunters about more bear sightings.
Frank’s Guns has been selling bear mace in massive quantities.
“We go through two or three cans a week now, where it used to be every couple of months,” Frank Havelick said.
People buy the mace in case they have a close encounter with a bear.