The weather has gotten warm quick and it's no surprise that winter's hibernating animals are waking up and looking for food. In fact, bears are reportedly everywhere these days with sightings being reported all across Rhode Island and Massachusetts.

Wildlife experts from both states have been putting the word out to residents that now is the time to start cleaning up your yard and protecting yourself from the hungry, wandering bears.

The Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife recently reported that they placed tracking collars on 27 black bears this winter and have found that they have been denning closer and closer to homes and businesses these days. Their research has also found that the suburban bear populations are larger than the bears found in forested areas.

So, how can you protect yourself from these closer and larger bears?

Both the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife and the Rhode Island Department of Environment Management agree in three basic steps to help prevent bears from wandering into your backyard.

1. Take down any remaining bird feeders and lock away remaining bird seed for the summer.

2. Secure trash bin lids to keep them closed or keep them in your garage between pick-up days.

3. Lock away any livestock feed, dog food or other pet food sources that may attract hungry bears.

Basically, if the bears around your residential neighborhood can't find food in their natural environment, then they will start wandering into yards searching through compost piles, trash bins, bird feeders and other food sources to fill their bellies.

Human food sources are actually incredibly unhealthy for bear populations and confrontations with people can become problematic as well. Keeping your yard free of tempting smells is the best way to keep your yard free from unwanted wildlife visitors.

MassWildlife say black bear numbers have been growing east of I-495 each year and Rhode Island DEM has already reported eight confirmed black bear sightings across the state for 2022.

Both government agencies say if you do spot a black bear in the wild, do not run, but rather walk away slowly while facing the bear and make noise and shout at it. Bear hunting is legal in Massachusetts, though you must have a license and permit to do so. In Rhode Island, however, bears are protected animals, and shooting them is illegal.

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