A garbage can is secured near where a black bear was captured in Patterson Wednesday. (The Daily Review Photo by Courtney Darce)
Don’t feed the bears.
Feeding Louisiana black bears is illegal in Louisiana and eventually leads to bears that are comfortable around people, Maria Davidson, Wildlife and Fisheries Large Carnivore Program manager, said.
However, indirect feeding via unsecured garbage, bird feeders or leaving pet food accessible can cause just as many problems, she said.
Bears become nuisances when they see residential garbage as their food source and seek to protect it, Davidson said.
It’s something Davidson and Catherine Siracusa, parish black bear conflict officer, have called “an all-you-can-eat garbage buffet” for bears.
Then many of the same residents — primarily in Patterson’s Sucrose Estates — who didn’t secure their garbage or outright feed the bears make complaints because bears walk through their yards or break into garbage cans and spread trash everywhere, said Siracusa.
It was the second strike for the bear caught Wednesday on Mike Drive. He was the same bear caught during filming for the 2013 LPB special “Alive! In America’s Delta, Black Bear Comeback,” Siracusa said.
When a nuisance bear is trapped, what happens to him or her is decided on a case-by-case basis, Davidson said.
“In coastal Louisiana, if we killed a bear every time he got into garbage, there wouldn’t be any bears left on the coast. When we euthanize a bear, it’s because the bear’s behavior poses a public safety risk,” Davidson said.
Some younger male bears can be relocated, but older males who have established territories and females are not. An average of one St. Mary Parish bear a year is euthanized because of its interactions with humans, she said.
“Typically, you want to see a bear that moves away when people are present,” Davidson said.
When a bear approaches people, doesn’t move away or exhibits aggressive behavior or a complete disregard for human presence, he is considered a nuisance and a risk to public safety, she said.
Naturally shy creatures, they become nuisances incrementally. “A bear begins to feed on garbage and he relies on it more and more as a food source. Then they get to where they are protective of what they see as their food resource,” Davidson said.
She said she believes there are five to six bears currently walking through neighborhoods in the Patterson area seeking out garbage.
“We can trap, haze them out of neighborhoods and relocate them a short distance, but if the garbage is still there, it certainly does not solve the problem. It’s barely even a Band Aid,” Davidson said.
Siracusa said in addition to unsecured garbage — which includes not properly closing and picking up the bear-proof cans provided free to residents in problem areas — bird and other “critter” feeders and dog food attract bears.
Human food is appealing to black bears because of its high caloric content and ease of access compared with the bear’s natural foods. For instance, a 25 pound bag of dog food can have as many as 42,425 calories, the equivalent of 11,165 acorns, while seven pounds of birdseed equals 12,180 calories or 3,206 acorns.
Bears need to pack on the calories and the pounds to sustain themselves during winter months when natural food sources are scarce, Siracusa said.
Patterson Mayor Rodney Grogan said with Progressive back to running regular collection schedules, he is directing the city’s compliance officers to return to monitoring prompt removal of emptied garbage cans from the curbside.
St. Mary Parish has an ordinance in place requiring that garbage cans not be placed for collection for a period exceeding 24 hours prior to the usual day and time of regular collection.
Grogan said the city will issue a citation on a resident’s door. If the problem is ongoing residents then will be brought into mayor’s court.
“Most people are complying with it. We are pushing farther and farther into (the bears’) environment and erosion is pushing them closer and closer,” Grogan said.
He added that Patterson’s current ordinance does not require garbage liners or bags. It’s something he said he may soon address with the City Council as “some people just throw unbagged refuse in their cans.”