By MARC FOLCO October 09, 2011 12:00 AM
The rumor was spreading like wildfire: One of the black bears that have taken up residence in the area had been shot and killed in Rochester and reported to the authorities last week. it was disheartening and disappointing to hear, but luckily it turned out to be just that — fictitious scuttlebut. Jason Zimmer, MassWildlife’s Southeast District Manager, confirmed that there was no truth to the tall tale, which had been fabricated and circulated after a cranberry bog owner allegedly said that he was going to shoot the bear that had been destroying beehives on his bogs to get at the honey.
Several area cranberry farmers have incurred recent damage to their hives by one or more bears. Hives are kept on the bogs because the bees aid in the pollination of the crop. And destroyed hives results in costly damages to the farmers and beekeepers. Technically, under Mass. General Laws, Chapter 131, Section, 37, a farmer has the legal right to kill a bear or other animals that are in the act of destroying property or crops but no bear was shot in Rochester, according to the authorities.
Zimmer said that the law is there basically for agricultural purposes. the section says that an owner or tenant of land or an authorized employee or immediate family member of the owner or tenant, may kill (except by poison or snare) any mammal which he finds damaging his property, except grass growing on uncultivated land. no permit is required but the taking of such mammals must be reported to the environmental police.
Complaints about the bear(s) destroying hives on area cranberry bogs had recently been answered by the Southeast office and Zimmer said that they (MassWildlife) had put an electric fence around a set of hives on a bog that had been hit several times, and it worked. the hives were no longer touched.
While a farmer has the legal right to shoot a bear if it’s destroying property such as beehives, or causing crop damage, such as eating corn or apples — is it really the best solution? And could a homeowner use the same law to legally shoot a bear if it was destroying a $10 bird-feeder, as long the firearm wasn’t discharged within 150 feet of a road or within 500 feet of a building in use (without permission of the owner)?
All farms and any business can endure losses through a multitude of circumstances, but there are ways to minimize those expenses. For example, many retail stores install expensive alarm systems, surveillance cameras and hire security personnel to discourage and/or catch shoplifters and robbers, which amounts to an expense, or the cost of doing business. Is shooting every bear that gets into a beehive the best method to reduce losses? Bears often are active from dusk to dawn, so there will be times when the hives are destroyed until the farmer can actually catch the bear in the act.
Installing an electric fence around the hives, as MassWildlife did, would protect the hives from ever being hit by a bear, so both hives and bears are spared. If the owner of every cornfield or apple orchard in Central and Western Mass., where black bears are abundant, shot each bear that ate crops, there would be few, if any, bears. Dairy farmers put electric fences around their pastures to keep their cows in. it can also work to keep bears out of cornfields and orchards.
It’s my guess that there are probably a few bears now lumbering around Southeastern Mass. with many sightings and reports of them in Acushnet, Rochester, Marion and Mattapoisett and also one unconfirmed but reliable report in Westport. As they overspread their range from other parts of the state, they’re seeking their own territories that provide food, water and shelter and there is just such habitat for them here.
There are still some thickly wooded areas, such as Haskell Swamp which is located in Mattapoisett, Marion and Rochester that offer ample basics for survival. the Freetown State Forest and Myles Standish State Forest provide the same. In addition to a diet of natural foods such as nuts, berries, fruit, grasses and carrion, supplemented with agricultural foods when available, bears are also notorious for robbing bird feeders. they will also kill and eat smaller animals such as woodchucks, rabbits, squirrels and even frogs.
The American black bear, Ursus americanus, is a magnificent, powerful animal and a thrill to hunt. If left alone, we possibly could see a huntable population in this part of the state in our lifetime, the first huntable bears here in 100 years. but if every bear gets shot while it’s trying to eat, and is therefore wasted, there will be no bears. Same goes for other wildlife. I can empathize with farmers, but in my opinion, the solution is to find ways to coexist with these tremendous game animals and take measures to discourage them from destroying crops and other property as we do with other valuable wildlife species — not shoot ‘em like varmints.
With autumn here, many hunting seasons beginning on Saturday, and the archery deer season to begin on Oct. 17, MassWildlife offers a few safety reminders that will add to your enjoyment and safety during a day in the field, whether you’re hunting, fishing, birding, hiking or taking a walk in the woods.
Know your limits. Don’t take off on a long hunt, hike or bike ride if you’re not physically ready.
Always tell someone where you’re going and when you expect to return.
Watch the weather. New England weather is notoriously changeable. be ready with extra clothing.
Expect the unexpected. Carrying a fanny pack with a few first aid items, matches, water, pocket knife, cell phone, map, compass, whistle, extra food, and flashlight can help prevent small problems from becoming big ones.
Wear blaze orange for visibility. Whether you’re a hunter, hiker, birder or dog walker in rural areas, it’s a good idea to wear a cap or vest of highly visible blaze orange clothing while you’re enjoying the great outdoors.
Respect the water. Canoeists and kayakers are required to wear life jackets from Sept. 15 to may 15, but all water enthusiasts, especially anglers who wade in larger rivers, would be wise to wear floatation devices now that water and air temperatures are cooling.
Respect other outdoor users. Hunting, mountain biking, horseback riding, wildlife watching and hiking are not mutually exclusive activities. know the hunting seasons and who is likely to be sharing the woods and waters with you. Keep dogs under direct control and respect other outdoor users’ rights to enjoy our open spaces.
Also keep in mind that hunter harassment is illegal in Massachusetts. the law states that no person shall obstruct, interfere or otherwise prevent the lawful taking of fish or wildlife by another at the locale where such activity is taking place. the section also clearly states that it’s illegal to: drive or disturb wildlife of fish for the purpose of interrupting a lawful taking; block, follow or impede or otherwise harass another who is engaged in the lawful taking of fish or wildlife; use natural or artificial visual, aural, olfactory or physical stimulus to effect wildlife in order to hinder her prevent such taking; erect barriers with the intent to deny ingress or egress to areas where the lawful taking of wildlife may occur; interject himself into the line of fire; effect the condition or placement of personal or public property intended for use in the taking of wildlife; or enter or remain upon public lands, or upon private lands without the permission of the owner or his agent, with intent to violate this section.
Finally, hunters are reminded to take the basics of hunter safety to heart. Treat every firearm as if it were loaded, keeping the muzzle pointed in a safe direction at all times. And positively identify your target and what lies beyond it before pulling that trigger.
Marc Folco is the outdoor writer for the Standard-Times. Contact him at email@example.com.
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