Although much of the United States has to deal with the problem of deer, wood chucks, opossums, rabbits and the like invading the garden here in Passaic County, New Jersey we have another, far larger problem to contend with. This is none other than Ursa americana pallas or the common – some would say all too common – black bear. Particularly in the northern regions of the state black bears have returned in large numbers to their former range. As any homeowner can tell you they are not choosy about what it is that they eat.
Bears are not concerned with peppers, tomatoes and cucumbers but there are certain crops that humans grow which they find almost irresistible. These include squash including acorn and butternut squash, pumpkins and to a lesser extent, zucchini. They love melons and berries of any kind.
Once they find a source for these bear they will not give up until they have consumed all they can hold. It is not unknown for a hungry bear to complete denude a smallish garden of everything he likes in a single sitting. Bears are big, and they are almost always hungry.
There is a slide show that accompanies this article showing a bear in action. Several days prior to the photos taken he had found – and consumed – three extraordinarily large butternut squash on the picnic table shown. He tore two of these apart, eating all of the seeds which is really all they are after, and carried the third off, presumably for a bedtime snack.
In this sequence he examines first the compost pile for yummy treats, then the table, where he can still smell squash, and then the grill – just in case.
A bear will ignore the garden if there are no squash, berries or melons within. On occasion they will go after sweet corn but this is not high on their list of preferred bear snacks. If bears are a problem year in, year out the gardener can only electrify the fence or simply not grow the crops that bears like.
Above all, if a bear is in the vegetable garden do not attempt to frighten it away. Bear attacks on humans are rare, but they do happen. It is best to simply take a picture from a safe distance and plant something different next year.
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