Spring is here, which means hibernation season has come to an end. State environmental officials are warning residents to be alert and remove any outdoor food sources to avoid an unwanted confrontation with a bear.

The Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management received its first black bear report of the year this week, officials said, with a resident in West Greenwich reporting that a bear had bent a backyard bird feeder on Tuesday. With growing populations of bears reported in Massachusetts and Connecticut in recent years, the department said Rhode Island residents should be wary of an increased black bear presence in 2019.

"Given the scarcity of food in the spring, black bears may visit bird feeders, beehives, chicken coops, rabbit hutches, and compost piles in search of food," said DEM spokeswoman Gail Mastrati. "Black bears are generally shy and will avoid interactions with humans. However, they can become dependent on backyard food sources, if readily available, and quickly become a nuisance."

For residents in southwestern Rhode Island, black bear sightings are not as common as in other parts of the state, but are not unexpected. Westerly police issued warnings in June 2018 after several residents reported a black bear rummaging through backyards along Narragansett Avenue.

Westerly Animal Control Officer Art Smith said last year that sightings in wooded areas of town such as Bradford have been reported as early as April and as late as June.

DEM officials are asking local residents to take precautions, including limiting access to bird feeders or removing feeders altogether, especially from April through November. Using sealed garbage cans can also reduce access to food limit scents that would attract bears, coyotes or other wildlife.

Officials also suggest that livestock be moved into barns at night and that pets be fed indoors. Grills and barbecue pits should be kept clean, and trash secured until the morning of pickup. Meat or sweet food scraps should not go into compost piles.

Officials also remind pet ownersto keep an eye out for dogs and cats, which can be targets for hungry predators.

"We encourage everyone to take precautions to keep yourself and your pets safe," Smith said.

jvallee@thewesterlysun.com

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