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Northampton residents reminded to avoid feeding the bears

A bear helps himself to seeds from a birdfeeder at a Northampton residence in 2009.
FILE PHOTO

A bear helps himself to seeds from a birdfeeder at a Northampton residence in 2009. FILE PHOTO Purchase photo reprints »

Along with crocuses, robins and tag sales, signs of spring now include the arrival of bears in backyards across the city.

The Northampton Police Department has already received its first call of the season from a resident who reported spotting what looked like a bear in a neighborhood tree.

To discourage such visits from bears, which have steadily increased in recent years, the city adopted an ordinance last summer making it illegal to feed bears and other wild animals within city limits. The ordinance does not ban birdfeeders, but if a feeder becomes the source of a wildlife feeding problem then the owner would be required to take steps to make the feeder inaccessible to wildlife.

The ordinance is complaint-based, and not meant to be punitive, but people who violate the rules could face fines starting at $100 for the first offense.

The Massachusetts Department of Fisheries and Wildlife recommends that birdfeeders be taken down by April 1 and not put back up until Dec. 1. The department also recommends additional ways to eliminate potential food sources for bears, such as storing garbage in closed containers, making sure picnic tables are clean, and not leaving any pet food outdoors.

A representative from the Massachusetts Environmental Police told the Gazette in an email that so far this year they have received 23 bear-related calls statewide.

Last year, the department received more than 400 calls, with the majority coming from western and central Massachusetts.

— KRISTA MANGIARDI

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