By Kaitlin Schroeder
WATERVILLE — Police have received multiple reports from people who say they have seen a bear wandering about the city.
While the sightings were near residential neighborhoods, a wildlife expert said if residents make sources of food inaccessible to bears, the bear probably will move back outside the city to where food is available in the wild.
Massey said a resident called police and said he saw a bear on his property, but by the time officers arrived, the bear had wandered away.
He said the police searched the area but couldn’t find the animal.
Then around 9 p.m., another resident reported seeing a bear in a funeral home parking lot on Silver Street.
“Again the officers went up, but by the time they got there, it had wandered off. We spent considerable time trying to locate it,” he said.
Massey said police were concerned because the bear was spotted in the middle of a populated area of the city and could be dangerous or become aggressive.
The best way to get a bear to leave an urban area such as Waterville is to remove access to food sources, said Judy Camuso, wildlife director for the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife.
“The challenge is, in area like Waterville, there usually are a lot of neighbors you have to get on board,” she said.
A short time after the Silver Street sighting, a person on Crommett Street made an additional report of a bear sighting, Massey said.
After each sighting, police officers checked trash cans but did not see any signs that the bear had tried to get any garbage.
“If it made that connection between trash cans and food, then it might keep it in the area,” Massey said.
He said if police find the bear, they will respond primarily to make sure people don’t interact with it, and they will work with the warden service possibly to move it away from the city.
Any additional bear sightings can be reported to the police at 680-4700.
Camuso said residents are encouraged to take their bird feeders in and clean up any piles of bird food under the feeders. She said if residents feed their pets outside, they should move the food to an area that can be secured, such as a garage, or into the house. Garbage should be kept indoors until it needs to be taken to the curb. She also advised residents with grills to keep them clean.
Camuso said her department often deals with people who don’t understand why they are discouraged from feeding the bears, given that baiting bears is permitted.
“Bait keeps bears in the woods, away from human dwellings,” she said. “It’s food in people’s backyard that attracts bears to people’s backyards.”
There are more than 30,000 bears in Maine, Camuso said, and Maine has the largest bear population in the Eastern U.S.
She said bears are found primarily in northern, less populated areas of Maine but are expanding into areas where there are more people.
Camuso said there have been about 530 complaints involving bears in the state so far this year, which is on par with a typical year.
She said in a rare situation, the department would work to remove and relocate a bear, but said they first exhaust other options. She said relocating is not always successful, and if people don’t change the availability of food, often either the same bear finds its way back to the neighborhood or a different bear does.
“If there’s no food available, they aren’t going to stay,” she said.
Black bears are generally not aggressive, and Camuso said they are primarily interested in looking for food. If residents encounter a bear, she said, they are advised to make noise, make themselves look big and slowly back away.
“Most of the time they are going to look up at you and amble off,” she said.
Kaitlin Schroeder — 861-9252