Autumn in the North Cemetery.

Sixty miles west of Boston, Massachusetts there is the small New England town of Sturbridge. Located at the junction of I-90 (The Mass Pike), and I-84 it has become known as the "Crossroads of New England". The town was first settled over 300 years ago, and like other small New England towns it has grown just enough over the years to be in a difficult place today. How do we embrace the future without forgetting how we got to our present? How do we attract the right kind of growth, and maintain who we are? And, what about our culture out here in Central Massachusetts?

These pages will cause one to think about how to protect what we have, our future direction, and how to move on in the very best way.

Those thoughts, and other ramblings, will hopefully inspire more thought, conversation, action, and occasionally a smile...

...seems to be working so far

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Ma, We's Got Bears Down On The Podunk Turnpike

Black bear out on his morning patrol on
Podunk road in Sturbridge, MA on July 24.

A few years ago the town was agog with bear sightings.  Seems a black bear came to town from over in Southbridge, and wandered about for awhile.  A year, or so, after that visit came another sighting of a large bear up on Brookfield Road near the schools.  He was meandering across some yards in the late afternoon. 

Black bears in western Massachusetts are a fairly common thing, and are often seen on porches, trash barrels, rumaging around the bird feeders.  Out here, in Central Mass, they are a lot less common.

Same bear stopping by the photographers
house a bit later on for a play date.

Or, they were a lot less common. 

Over the past several years the bear population has increased further east, and they are as comfortable in Sturbridge as they are in North Adams.  In fact, over the past month or so, bears have been sighted in Webster, Charlton, and here in Sturbridge.

This morning, a friend of ours, Georianna Shea, was driving home from her overnight shift at the hospital, when she came across a large black bear on Podunk Road.  The bear was contently ambling along the middle of Podunk before wandering into the woods.  He later reappeared on Georgie's front yard. 

Black bears were here long before us, but until recently they were not so close.  Unless they become a nusiance, they are here to stay.  Don't expect the Fish & Wildlife folks to relocate every bear in the area to some remote park in the Berkshires; what's happening is natural.  What we need to do is learn to live with them, and when they do become a nusiance, we need to report it, otherwise live, and let live.

Below is a the Black Bear Fact sheet from the MSPCA.  Look it over, and give it to the kids to read, too.  You never know when you'll run into one of them, and having just a bit more knowledge than you had 10 minutes ago can help to avoid all sorts of problems in the future.

About Black Bears

The bears you may encounter in Massachusetts are black bears, the most common of the three bear types that live in North America. Black bears grow to about five feet tall and can weigh 100 to 600 pounds. A black bear’s diet consists mostly of fruits, nuts, and insects along with small live prey and carrion, making them omnivorous. Black bears live solitary lives except when they are courting mates and rearing cubs. Cubs are usually born in the spring and stay with their mothers until they are about two years old. They become sexually mature at about age three, but usually don’t breed until age five.


Although black bears have historically shied away from humans, they may wander onto human-inhabited property, primarily looking for food.

Take these steps to keep them away:

•Eliminate all food sources from your yard. Secure open compost piles, clean up spilled seed from bird feeders, clean and put away grills, and bring in all pet food remnants and containers if companion animals are fed outside.

•Store garbage in a shed or garage between garbage collection days. Put out garbage the morning of garbage collection day rather than the night before.

•Firmly secure your garbage containers with bungee cords (click here for image) or purchase bear-proof garbage containers. Click here to find vendors that sell bear-proof garbage containers.

•Limit bear access to beehives, orchards, and farm fields by installing electric fencing or heavy-gauge fencing with barbed wire.

•Install motion light sensors and use loud radios.

If you run into a black bear:

(Please note: These tips are for encounters with black bears only. If you are traveling in areas where other types of bears may be present, seek information and advice about how to handle bear encounters in those regions.)

A bear encounter can be scary. These animals are most dangerous when they are accompanied by cubs, are feeding or guarding food, are injured, or are startled by the sudden appearance of a human. Bears who have frequent exposure to humans in campgrounds or around garbage dumps are less fearful and can be more dangerous. If you are in an area where you know bears may be present, carry hot-pepper spray with capsaicin as the active ingredient. If sprayed from 7 to 10 feet away, the repellent irritates the eyes without permanently injuring the animal.

Take the following steps if you spot a bear.

•Stay calm and never approach the bear, but keep your eyes on them and hold your ground. This may be all that is necessary to de-escalate the situation.

•Wave your arms and appear as big as possible.

•Make noise by banging objects or by shouting in a human voice. Do not imitate a bear’s growl or other animal noises.

•If all else fails, throw things at the bear to get him to move on.

•In the unlikely event that the bear bluff charges, experts advise standing still since the bear usually uses this bluff charge as a warning before turning and moving off. If attacked by a black bear, be aggressive and fight back.


As with all mammals, bears can contract rabies.

Photographs courtesy of Georgianna Shea  Sturbridge, MA 

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