Bear takes mid-winter walk in Shelburne neighborhood

Bear prints were captured in the snow by Kim Douglas last week in her yard outside her husband’s workshop.

The wild weather this winter has brought an unusual cold-weather visitor to Shelburne. Last week, Kim Douglas noticed that the bark on a cedar tree in her backyard was shredded.

She knew it wasn’t the work of an overly ambitious squirrel, so a call to the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department and some further investigation revealed that a bear most likely had made a stop in her yard.

Douglas sent some pictures to Fish and Wildlife and connected with Mary Smith, who is a retention and recruitment coordinator in the department’s law enforcement division. Smith said she couldn’t identify what type of animal made the marks, which went as high as eight feet, based on photos of the cedar, so she sent Douglas back outside to look for footprints. Luckily, there were still prints in the snow, and Douglas said that Smith told her, “I think you found your tree scratcher.”

Though most bears are still hibernating this time of year, it’s not unusual for them to wake up and take a stroll during extended periods of warmer weather, Smith said.

The Douglas property on Beaver Creek Road backs up to woods and the Kwiniaska Golf Club, an area with plenty of terrain where a bear might find a cozy spot to hibernate.

Flooding from the recent thaws could have disrupted the bear’s hibernation cycle. Douglas said Smith mentioned that if the bear were hibernating in a low spot or even a culvert, an unpleasantly wet awakening could have prompted him to take a walk.

Smith said it’s likely that the bear scratched the tree either to sharpen his claws or look for insects to eat in the bark.

Photo by Kim Douglas
A bear is the likely suspect of this tree-scratching, which goes almost eight feet up this cedar in Kim Douglas’s yard in Shelburne. Bears can take a break from hibernation if the weather is warm; this one was either sharpening his claws or searching for a snack of insects in the bark.

The cedar tree is located in Douglas’ backyard, outside her husband’s workshop. “He spends a lot of time tinkering out there,” she said. “Whenever I hear noises back there, he jokes that it’s a bear, so it’s kind of ironic.”

A Front Porch Forum post by Douglas warning neighbors about the possible wandering bear yielded almost twenty email responses. Though she was the only one to actually see evidence of the animal, she said people were very interested in her experience.

Early spring flooding and warmer weather can bring the bears out, but colder weather will drive them back to sleep until an extended period of warmth — spring — occurs.

If you see a bear, or signs of a bear, Smith said, there’s no need to panic or call Fish and Wildlife. She said, “It’s cool to see them. Be careful that animals don’t get in the way of the bear, and enjoy seeing wildlife.”

Douglas definitely appreciates her mid-winter visitor, and said, “I kind of wish I had gotten to see it and find out what its next moves are,” though she adds about her husband’s workshop, “I’m not going there in the dark anymore.”

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