Kaatscast: the Catskills Podcast
March 14, 2023

Black Bears 🐾 Sharing Space

Black Bears 🐾 Sharing Space

As Catskills black bears emerge from hibernation, we spoke with three bear experts –– wildlife rehabilitator Kristine Flones, and conservationist couple Patti and Bill Rudge –– who shared some handy tips for coexisting peaceably with our Catskills bears, including ...

  • the best time to wrap up your wild bird food (and why)
  • the importance of taking out the trash (at the crack of dawn)
  • equipping your Catskills home with a ... marine signal horn? 
  • resisting the urge to run from a bear!
  • identifying a mom with cubs
  • creating "space" on the trails

Enter here for a chance to win an Attwood Bellow Signal Horn, the same model Patti Rudge uses to keep the bears at bay!

Thanks to our sponsors:

Ulster Savings Bank
Central Catskills Chamber of Commerce
Briars & Brambles Books

Thanks also to The Mountain Eagle, and listeners like you!

--- Support this podcast: https://anchor.fm/kaatscast/support


Transcribed by Jerome Kazlauskas via https://otter.ai

Bill Rudge  0:03  
Black bears in the northeast don't need humans to survive. It's only when humans provide something that's really easy for them to gain a food source that we have problems.

Kristine Flones  0:16  
The most help to the bears is not to feed them. Because...believe me...I for one would love to be feeding bears or anything such as I could hang out with them, and I can't do that and I don't do that.

Patti Rudge  0:31  
They eat a lot of vegetables, grubs. They're opportunists. But if there's a time to hunt, they will be a predator. They need to survive.

Brett Barry  0:41  
Catskills black bears and Catskills humans have every reason to get along very nicely, if humans do the right thing. On this week's show, living harmoniously with the black bears among us, and how to respond if a bear gets too close for comfort. You've heard of "Goldilocks and the Three Bears." This is Kaatscast and the three bear experts.

Kristine Flones  1:07  
Well, my name is Kristine Flones. I've been a resident of Woodstock for about 32 years. I got on this adventure with animals here in Woodstock to just an accident...and someone asked if I'd take care of a crow and I said, "Oh, sure. I had no idea what I was getting into, and I ended up having a mentor and becoming a licensed wildlife rehabilitator in the state of New York."

Bill Rudge  1:35  
I'm Bill Rudge, natural resource supervisor for the Department of Environmental Conservation. Before that, I was a forester for the department. I started my career as a wilderness ranger...and so I have lots of opportunities, including interactions with bears.

Patti Rudge  1:51  
I am Patti Rudge and I'm a retired New York State Forest Ranger from region three and I had the responsibility for the town of Shandaken and Denning. I'd have had and continue to have a great deal of exposure to that which goes on in the wild lands around here.

Brett Barry  2:09  
As Catskills black bears emerge from hibernation, this is a very good time to remind ourselves how best to share space with them.

Kristine Flones  2:19  
As soon as...as there's warm days like this bear could wake up...and then of course, if it's this area, and it's Wednesday and the garbage is out, that's a very good source of food. Pizza, fabulous. Leftover salmon, fabulous hamburgers, fabulous. Bird feeders, fabulous, you know, sunflower seeds. It's the heavy and oil and...and protein, and that's a great, great food. We have a garbage pickup on Wednesdays at our home, and we do not put our garbage out until the morning and our garbage they come early. So sometimes we're out at 6am or 5:30am. Moving our garbage can out...and if everybody in the neighborhood does that, then your whole neighborhood will become safer from having confrontations with bears. Look at this from the bears point of view. A bear lives here in this area. There's lots of people living here. We have grills, we have garbage out, we have bird feeders out. So from a bears point of view, people are lovely. It's like these people are so kind. They're always putting stuff out for us. Here we are children, you come to this family every week, this is the day you come and they will have this big container and there's these bags that you just rip them open very easy...and spread it out and just pick out what you want...and so they, you know, oh my gosh, what? These are wonderful, two legged people...and then look at the bird feeder. That's for the birds and it's for us to there it is right there, and if you give it a little whack at sprinkle some on the ground and you help yourself, you know, I really look at it that way. It's just like, what would it look like to the bear? It looks like we are the nicest critters on Earth. Oh my god...so generous, always kind...and then you're completely taken back when something bad happens. Say like, what but I didn't do nothing.

Brett Barry  4:40  
So you have a rule about bird feeders in terms of when to put them out and when to take them down. Right or they're pretty specific dates there.

Kristine Flones  4:48  
Yeah, it's real specific and it's not working as here. So I, you know, I would say spring (March 21st). That's the end of the bird feeders and December 21st. You can put a bird feeder out for the winter. But gosh, this year is all crazy. So we're so warm. So maybe the bird feeders are about done already, and we could still have terrible storms or something, we know that, but the warm weather we can...a bear can wake up and come scrounging and the easiest food to scrounge is a garbage bag or a bird feeder.

Patti Rudge  5:22  
There may be a bear problem at one's home, then the homeowner is advised to tighten up the garbage, feed the dogs indoors, get rid of the bird feeders, and so on and so forth...and the homeowner is so grateful for this insight. So they think they've done so, but what they really do is just bring the bird feeder in at night. For instance, they...they do a partial cleanup, feeling so pleased with themselves that they've learned and they've adhered...yet, they have another problem where the same problem persists...and then the landowner gets a little angry and frustrated...and then very often we have a bear problem. It's not a bear problem. It's really people not paying attention to the basics and doing what they're told. So we have people problem and the bear does take a hit sometimes.

Bill Rudge  6:14  
The first thing is to eliminate any possibility that...that bear can get it at a food source. I mean, that's paramount. Because bears learn that activity, bears aren't attracted to people in general, they associate people with food, and that's why they would come to a home or a garage or that kind of thing.

Kristine Flones  6:34  
There was a community, local community, and there was one person who just would not take their bird feeders down all summer, just really wanted. That's what he enjoyed and he wanted it that way and the neighbors would speak to him and beg him to please take the freedom and you wouldn't do it. Because he felt that was his right. The problem was that the bears became very familiar with that and would come around for it...and then for some reason or another, they would also go to the other houses in the area and bother them and say, "Maybe somebody's got a ripe cantaloupe on their counter in their kitchen or in their screen-in porch." Well, the bears gonna smell that and that smells delicious. In it looks like it's being offered, if it's outside, if it's in a screen-in porch, there's nothing there just a screen, there were incidents with some neighbors, a mom and was eating with your kids...peanut butter and jelly sandwiches or something at the kitchen table next to a window and the window was wide open, and the bears smelled it. Of course, first and saw them and went up to the window and thought he could get one of those sandwiches. That's very frightening for people, for a mother with little kids show the DEC solution is that they take the bear and when that bear gets three notices, they shoot the bear. They used to take a nuisance bear and take them someplace else, but there's no longer anyplace else. New Jersey is to bring those up here. But now, they can't and we can't and nobody can, there's no place to take them. Because the bear population has just exploded because we're feeding them.

Bill Rudge  8:26  
I'm recently retired. But the policy that was in place when I was working was that the first interaction with a bear. The department would coach the homeowner to take the steps to remove anything that might attract the bear, you know, make sure their food was secured, if they have a dumpster secure the dumpster, put their garbage out not until the morning when they knew the garbage company was going to pick up the garbage. That's the biggest first step is to remove the attractants. The next step we would recommend would be make noise, try to discourage the bear from interacting with them. If the bear continued to be a problem, if they couldn't discourage the bear, call the Department of Environmental Conservation, the department can put out a trap and trap the bear and remove it from the community where the bear is causing the problem. They may just relocate the bear and hope the bear would be happy with that new habitat, but I tell you, relocation rarely works, especially if there's a strong attract and the bear oftentimes will go back to where the bear was relocated from and at that point may have to decide that...that bear could no longer survive in the wild and had to be killed.

Patti Rudge  9:51  
So what we keep literally at the back door are noisemakers (different makes models), but clearly, we have experience. The basic whistle, which is high-pitched in, as much lung power as you have. This is a marine horn. This also is a marine horn that has to have a charge on it and should you unexpectedly recognize that it's out of energy...you always have this one to go to or this one...really big noisemakers.

Bill Rudge  10:23  

Patti Rudge  10:24  
Pots and pans, you know, we'll...we'll do it. Yelling loudly and quite frankly our dogs. Our dogs solve the problem here.

Brett Barry  10:32  
I asked Patti to demonstrate one of those marine horns, and it was certainly audible, reverberating through the valley. That's an Attwood Bellow air horn and Kaatscast is giving one away to one lucky bear conscious listener. Details after the break. Kaatscast is proudly sponsored by Ulster Savings Bank. Interested in working with a great team at their Phoenicia location? Call 866-440-0391 or visit them at ulstersavings.com. Member FDIC Equal Housing Lender. Equal Opportunity Employer. Support also comes from Briars & Brambles Books. The go to independent book and gift store in the Catskills, located in Windham, New York, right next to the pharmacy; just steps away from the Windham Path. Open daily. For more information, visit briarsandbramblesbooks.com or call 518-750-8599. Okay, so now that you've stowed that bird feeder, and locked up the garbage, thank you, by the way, there's still plenty of food out there. For those primarily vegetarian, Catskills bears.

Kristine Flones  11:53  
They are primarily an herbivore...and other words, they're vegetarians, pretty much, pretty much. But when they come out in the spring, one of...one of the things you'll see is that the bears will be rolling over old logs and stuff in the forest and they're looking for grubs...and they might be looking for mushrooms or other bugs or whatever is in that rotting wood that's fallen on the forest floor, which is another reason why it's good not to clean up your forest, but to let things be there that are...that are rotting because they attract different kinds of insects or...or whatever critters that then are useful in the whole food chain...and that's important, too.

Patti Rudge  12:39  
They'll eat a lot of mast net, that's the name for beech nuts, acorns, cherry drops, and they just...they're seasonal, but it's classic to walk up on our woodlot or anywhere in the woods, but when you see a lot of rocks, just flip, flip, flip...and it's amazing to think that they'll work that hard make that much effort for a little bug.

Bill Rudge  13:02  

Kristine Flones  13:04  
Berries, nuts are fabulous source for a lot of animals. For bears, the acorns, the hickory nuts, just leaves, you know, all the Native American societies have clans and the Bear Clan is the clan of healers because the bear is believed to know all the healing plants. I suppose that they know which plants to go to if they have a stomach ache or whatever.

Brett Barry  13:35  
And if you happen to bump into a bear as it's foraging in the woods, well, Patti Rudge has this advice.

Patti Rudge  13:42  
I would stop for sure, I would see if there's more than one, meaning that it might be a salad with cups.

Bill Rudge  13:51  

Patti Rudge  13:52  
And then make certain that...that bear if it's terribly close sees me as well. Because again, in woods, it's really beautiful thing to sit back quietly and watch the wildlife and...and enjoy it doing what it naturally does. But if you are startled by the bear or if the bear, you know, in turn is startled, you want to make sure it knows you're there and it knows you're human...and the easiest way to do that is to be big and to talk at it...and I would always tell people to speak on or to yell on the exhale. It gives you some control in a sense of command. So you simply set your diaphragm and you yell...no bear or go bear or...you know, I'm human bear rather than on the inhale and a squeal and you don't have the control and you want to give yourself a sense of command.

Bill Rudge  14:48  

Brett Barry  14:49  
And Kristine Flones elaborated on the approach she would advise.

Kristine Flones  14:53  
If you're hiking, you're walking, and you find a bear, that's your good manners and say, "Oh, hello?" Oh...and gently retreat or go around, look around, do you see cubs? Do you seeing other bears? Do you see anybody else and just being respectful? If you are out in the woods and you run into another person, you priorly take a look at them and assess that person...and you might greet them and you walk around them, you give people space, and you do the same thing with the bear, give them space. If it's a female bear, it's a mama bear...and she's got cubs, the cubs are taught to climb a tree...usually a pine tree because it has really great gnarly bark. She wants to protect her cubs; she might do a big huh of huff or hum array at you...and make a noise...and then she's telling you to back off. So then, you know, you have to somehow go around that situation.

Patti Rudge  15:55  
It's a very clear warning. The other warning is when they will drop down and plant their feet and stamp both feet or click their jaws. They're not happy animals, you're well within their personal space...and you need to exit.

Bill Rudge  16:12  
I think exiting at that point is the right response. Bears don't want to have interactions with people they really don't. So it's very rare for a pair to approach a person to one situation where there is more concern it from our experience is when there are cubs involved...and that's when you want to figure out where the cubs are in relation to the bear...and then make sure you're not between the bear and the cubs.

Patti Rudge  16:42  
I would not turn my back on a bear that I was not comfortable with or on any animal.

Bill Rudge  16:47  

Patti Rudge  16:47  
Or any person for that matter. The same street smarts; I would tell people that they are so tuned into when they live in urban areas, they need to use up here and put a twist on it. So keep all of your senses wide open, keep your eyes on the potential problem and retreat. You just bail out on that hike for the day and back to the vehicle and it may be the long way around, but put a lot of distance between yourself and the problem. Try so hard not to run is a real hard thing not to run gives yourself some space...and then when you feel like you've got enough distance, people are going to start trotting down the trail they want out.

Brett Barry  17:31  
Our bear experts stressed that the likelihood of a serious incident with a black bear is extremely low. There are rare exceptions of course. So exercise common sense, spatial awareness and a healthy respect not just for black bears, but for all of our Catskills wildlife.

Kristine Flones  17:51  
They are just a gentle, very large, but gentle animal. They're beautiful. You see that they're clean. They're sweet. They're very playful. Is there a funny? When you're in Phoenicia in the 4th of July Parade, there was a bear that joined the parade for a while. I mean, they're really, really lovely.

Patti Rudge  18:12  
We have certainly seen bear here that just are traveling through and it's a beautiful thing to see. As we should see them here right in the middle of the Catskills, so we should see them and we should be happy to see them and we should be able to live with them...and we do.

Brett Barry  18:29  
Click the link in our show notes for a chance to win a marine air horn like the one Patti uses when a bear gets too close for comfort. We'll announce the winner on our next show. Thanks to our listeners supporters like Alan and Donna, Vivian, Daphne, and Elizabeth Anne. If you'd like to make a contribution, just click the "Donate" button at kaatscast.com. Thanks also to the Mountain Eagle, covering Delaware, Greene, and Schoharie counties, including brands for local regions like the Windham Weekly, Schoharie News, and Catskills Chronicle. For more information, call 518-763-6854 or email: mountaineaglenews@gmail.com. Kaatscast is a production of Silver Hollow Audio, a proud member of the Central Catskills Chamber of Commerce. Providing services to businesses, community organizations, and local governments in the Central Catskills region. Follow the Central Catskills Chamber of Commerce on Facebook and sign up for a weekly email of local events at centralcatskills.org. Silver Hollow Audio is an Ulster County certified green business and a member of 1% for the planet. I'm your host, Brett Barry. Thanks for listening and we'll see you next time.