By Staff

BOSTON (CBS) — The black bear population in Massachusetts continues to grow and push east, and the state is reminding residents to take precautions.

“Now is when black bears fatten up for winter,” the Massachusetts Department of Fish and Game tweeted Thursday. “You can help keep bears wild by removing bird feeders, feeding pets indoors, and securing garbage.”

Bird feeders are considered “the gateway drug” to other human-provided food sources, which is why residents are urged to take them down when bears are typically looking to gather food.

MassWildlife this year published an article by Jim Behnke titled “Massachusetts Is Bear Country.” While there were likely under 100 black bears in the state back in the 1970s, there now may be as many as 5,000.

“The black bear’s range has gradually expanded eastward,” the article states. “This trend is likely to continue as females establish new home ranges east of I-495.”

The black bear range is expanding eastward (Image credit: MassWildlife)

Experts say bear hunting is key to managing the population. There have been 2,376 black bears hunted since 2010, including a record 325 last year.

Black bears generally avoid people and are not aggressive – only six minor injuries from bear encounters have been reported in the state since 2008. But it’s still a good idea to respect a bear’s space, as fatalities from black bears have happened in rare occasions in other states.

Over the next decade, MassWildlife biologist Dave Wattles said in the article that bears will continue to head east.

“If you look at the area between I-495 and Route 128 on Google Earth there are some ideal habitats for bears—large blocks of protected forest and wetlands intersected by suburban developments,” Wattles said. “I expect our established bear range to expand another 20 or 30 miles to the east to the corridor between I-190 and I-495 and inside of I-495 and in southeast Massachusetts through Douglas and Oxford and nearby towns.” Staff