Patterson residents, experts discuss roaming, hungry black bears
PATTERSON, La. — Patterson residents are getting fed up with Louisiana black bears on their property, so they gathered at a town hall meeting Monday to find out from experts what can be done.
Black bears have been a problem in the Patterson area for at least 20 years, said Maria Davidson, large carnivore program manager for the state Department of Wildlife and Fisheries.
Davidson said that she caught her first black bear in Louisiana on Leo Drive 17 years ago and caught one at the same house two weeks ago.
Mayor Rodney Grogan said the current problem is that the bears are spreading all over town, not just confined to south of the railroad tracks as they have been in previous years.
Keeping garbage secure and purchasing bear spray, a type of bear deterrent, were offered as partial solutions at the meeting.
Both shooting and feeding bears are not allowed under current law.
Grogan said, “I’m not about creating more laws. We do have ones that are in place in regards to litter and so forth … right now I have pictures sent to me via email of a neighbor. A bear threw trash in the yard. The trash is still in the yard. We have to look at our enforcement components of the ordinances we have because now that neighbor is putting the whole community in jeopardy.”
Judy Roy of Patterson added, “It also gets annoying when you have to go out there every morning and pick up your garbage.”
There are 1,300 bear-proof garbage cans in St. Mary Parish, but residents and experts acknowledge they don’t work very well for the opportunistic omnivores.
Progressive Waste representative Roddy Matherne said it takes about six months to get a new can from the day it is ordered. Also, about 50 cans of a new type are being tried in Patterson as part of a pilot program, he said.
Catherine Siracusa, parish black bear conflict officer, said garbage is being picked up in various parts of Patterson over four days. Her office is working with the city and Progressive to change that so the entire area’s trash is collected on only two days, minimizing the number of nights bears prowl for human waste.
If it’s only the garbage cans, get rid of them, Roy said.
“If I came face to face with a bear … it wouldn’t be here today to be talked about because I’m not dealing with a bear. I don’t even like big dogs,” Roy said.
Shooting a bear is illegal as it is a Federally listed threatened species.
Steven Howard, who said he was confronted by a bear on his porch when he opened his door, asked whether he could shoot a bear if it was attacking him.
Davidson said he could shoot the bear.
But Police Chief Patrick LaSalle said, “Don’t shoot one of those bears unless it’s absolutely necessary.”
He promised a thorough investigation and reminded residents it’s illegal to discharge a firearm within the city limits.
The fine for shooting a black bear is up to $25,000.
Steve Bierhorst, parish councilman and public works director for the city, said, “When can you thin them out in the City of Patterson? I know everybody loves bears, and they love animals, but it gets to a point where we’re experiencing, right now in the City of Patterson, where the bears are encroaching on us. … It’s really getting to be a nuisance in the City of Patterson. I don’t have a problem with bears, but there are a lot of people that do.”
Roy said, “Our residents have to be in fear all the time because of bears coming in the yards.”
Roy said her son had a confrontation with a bear that “jumped an eight-foot fence.”
“I have a fear to go outside. … I have no weapon against a bear,” Roy said.
Bear spray is a bear deterrent containing capsaicin that causes reduced breathing as well as irritation to the eyes, nose, mouth, throat and lungs.
While Davidson said she has never responded to a bear attacking a human or livestock in her 17 years in Louisiana, she did recommend the spray for people who feel uncomfortable. Many residents have noted that their garbage cans are close to their doors and are being raided by bears frequently.
The spray is like Mace for humans but shoots about 30 feet. It works better than using the human version, and it is available online for between $30 and $45 per can, Michael Drewry, Wildlife and Fisheries representative, said.
In fact, the bear spray is more effective than shooting the animal, said Fred Kimmel, Wildlife and Fisheries representative. Studies have shown that there are less human injuries using the spray, he said.
Roy said, “I don’t think the cans are our only issue. Why don’t you guys start feeding bears?”
Davidson said supplemental feeding programs don’t work.
Feeding program have been tried on both black and brown bears for many years in different states as a means to keep bears away from something they should not interact with, Davidson said.
“It’s never met with success … the reasons are many. One is if you provide a food source, the alpha males in that group are just going to occupy that food source and all of the other bears are going to have to go about whatever they were going to do anyway. The second is if you provide an artificial food source, you will artificially boost that population, and that is something you don’t want to do,” Davidson said.
Citizens feel like they’re being held hostage by the bears, Bierhorst said.
“Nobody wants the bears to stay out of those neighborhoods more than me. Believe me,” Davidson said.
A citizens’ awareness program, similar to a neighborhood watch, is being formed for residents. Anyone interested should email their contact information to firstname.lastname@example.org.