All of us love looking at wildlife—watching gray squirrels scamper through the trees or listening to the eager chirps of chickadees at the bird feeder. Usually we only see glimpses of larger wild animals such as skunks, raccoons, deer, or bear. But as new suburbs are built out in the country and woods are cut down to make way for new house lots, we're moving into their natural habitat, and some of these animals quickly learn that having people around also means that there is easy food around.
No one wants a raccoon rummaging through the garbage cans or a black bear on the back porch eating the dog food that was left out overnight. These animals are called "nuisance wildlife" when they show up in your back yard and create a problem. The solution is often to trap or tranquilize the animal and move it out of the area, or even to kill it. Some people say, "A fed bear is a dead bear," because it is so likely to cause problems.
Relocating a wild animal often separates it from family or group members and leaves it in an unfamiliar place where it will have to find new food sources and shelter and compete with other animals in the area. Some animals have a strong homing instinct and will try to find their way back to their old neighborhood, facing dangers from traffic or predators along the way.
Wouldn't it be much better for the animal if it didn't become a nuisance in the first place? It's safer for the animal (and you) if it stays in the wild and finds its food there, instead of on your back porch. When we leave food outside where a wild animal can find it, we are creating what is called an "attractive nuisance." Humans are the problem here, not the animal.
Bear-ly There will help inspire classroom conversations about:
What kinds of problems do humans create for wild animals?
What kinds of problems do wild animals create for humans?
Do people have a responsibility for wild animals?
What kinds of wild animals have you seen in your neighborhood? Is it safe for them to be there, or would they be better off if they stayed away, in their natural habitat?
If you had a bear coming to your backyard, what could you do to discourage it? Brainstorm some solutions. They might include:
Only use bird feeders during the winter months, when bears are quasi-hibernating. Empty the bird feeder, clean it, and store it away for the spring, summer, and fall months when there is already plenty of natural, wild food available for birds.
If you feed your pets outdoors, don't leave any pet food or dirty food dishes outside overnight. Bears have a good sense of smell, so if you are storing petted or birdseed in a shed or garage, be sure it is in a tightly sealed metal container.
Don't leave full garbage cans out overnight. Put your garbage out just before the pickup time. Several manufacturers make "bear proof" garbage cans, which might prove useful if you have a problem. Wash and rinse garbage cans regularly and double-bag garbage. Store your tightly closed garbage cans in a secure garage or inside location.
Clean your barbecue grill right after using it so that food scraps and trapped grease won't attract a hungry bear.
If you have a problem with wildlife visitors, do not put any food scraps in your compost pile.
If you have fruit trees in your yard, gather ripe fruit when it's ready, and dispose of any fruit that has fallen on the ground so that it won't attract wildlife.
Bears: A Year in the Life, by Matthias Breiter (Firefly, 2005)
Follows three species of bear through the year.
Bears: Polar Bears, Black Bears, and Grizzly Bears, by Deborah Hodge (Kids Can Press, 1999)
Full of interesting facts about bears.
Black Bear: North America's Bear, by Stephen Swinburne (Boyds Mills, 2003)
Beautiful photos, good information.
Wild Neighbors: The Humane Approach to Living with Wildlife, by John Hadidian (Fulcrum, 1997)
This is a book written for adults, but older children will find it interesting and teachers can glean plenty of good information from it.
Activity: What Do Bears Eat?
Using some of these websites or books in your school library, research what bears eat.
Are bears herbivores, carnivores, or omnivores?
What kinds of wild foods would bears find in your area?
Why would bears be hungriest in the spring?
Why do bears need to eat a lot in the fall, to get fat?
Is it a good idea to feed wildlife? Is human food good for wildlife? This website by the Humane Society offers some good advice: www.humanesociety.org/animals/resources/tips/feed_wildlife.html
Activity: What Is Hibernation?
Bears don't go into true hibernation like some other animals. But their body systems slow down and they doze off in a long nap for the winter. (If something disturbs them, they can wake up to protect their cubs or deal with danger.)
Do you live in an area where animals hibernate? If so, which ones do and which ones don't?
Make a list and talk about winter survival strategies for animals.
Activity: What Is a Bear's Territory?
Male black bears might roam in a 15- to 80-square-mile area.
Get a local map and find the location of your school.
Using the distance key on the map and a ruler, figure out what distance represents five miles for this map.
Put the point of a compass on your school's location on the map, set the distance so that it represents five miles, and draw a circle around your school. This will be an area that is about 80 square miles.
Look at the map and talk about what is on the boundaries of this area—stores or gas stations or a woods or other landmarks that will help you see how far a bear might wander in any direction.
(For teachers: we divided 80 by 3.1417, which gives us 25.464. The square root of that is 5.064, which is the radius of a circle with an area of 80 square miles.)