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Bears are waking from hibernation weeks early across Vermont

Wet bear tracks across a wooden porch
Tovar Cerulli
Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department
The state has been getting reports of bear activity since early March, including a photo of tracks across a porch. Biologists say bears are in every town in Vermont outside the Champlain Islands.

For years, the state would advise Vermonters to remove bird feeders and other food sources that might attract a bear to their property by April 1. Recently, though, that hasn’t been a reliable end of the hibernating season.

“We have been seeing that creep earlier and earlier into mid-March,” said Jaclyn Comeau, the bear biologist for Vermont Fish and Wildlife. “Now this year is definitely earlier than usual where we've been getting consistent reports since we hit March.”

Bears have been reported hitting bird feeders, getting into garages, and traipsing across porches across the state, from the southern Green Mountains to the greater Burlington area, and the Connecticut River Valley.

Beekeeping supplies in disarray on a garage floor.
Jane Lindholm
A bear broke into a garage in Addison County in April 2022 to reach beekeeping supplies.

While female bears with cubs born this year will hibernate until April, other bears will emerge from their dens once enough snow recedes, temperatures warm, and they can consistently find food.

“These bears that are up now are staying up for the rest of the season,” said Comeau. “This is just the reality we're all going to have to get used to with climate change.”

She urges people to take precautions: take down bird feeders, rake up spilled seeds, and store bird food in a secure structure. “Bears can smell those seeds, even if it's in what seems like an airtight container,” she said.

If you have bees, chickens, or other livestock, put up an electric fence. Store garbage in a secure structure, and if you see a bear, report it to the state and to your neighbors.

“These bears that are up now are staying up for the rest of the season.”
Jaclyn Comeau, Vermont Fish & Wildlife

“It is so much easier to deter a bear if it has never found food at your house,” Comeau said. Bears have excellent memories, and once they’ve gotten food somewhere, they’ll often come back.

Being proactive is vital for the animal’s safety — the state and private citizens kill around a dozen to 40 bears a year whose behavior presents a danger to the public, like breaking into cars, killing livestock, or causing extensive property damage.

“So many people see these bear incidents as just being seemingly benign,” Comeau said.

“In a lot of cases, it is just a nuisance. It's an annoyance. But these things can escalate.”

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Lexi covers science and health stories for Vermont Public.