By GAIL LOWE
WAKEFIELD — A bear sighting in Middlesex County is thought to be rare by most people but spokesman for the Department of Fish and Game Amy Mahler said such sightings are not unusual at all.
Over the weekend a Sycamore Road resident told police a “large bear” greeted him in his driveway when he arrived home at 11 p.m. Saturday. Sycamore Road is off Montrose Avenue.
Animal Control Officer Ken Stache said he thinks it “highly unlikely” that a bear was in Wakefield but added that nothing would surprise him where animals are concerned.
The town’s Animal Control Officer said there are plenty of coyotes and fishers in the area and some grow really big. “But I’ve never heard about bears. Still, anything is possible.”
Amy Mahler, spokesman for the state’s Department of Fish and Game, said that bears in Massachusetts are “extremely common.”
“Specifically, in Massachusetts we have American black bears,” Mahler said, adding that black bears might also have brown or cinnamon-colored muzzles and possibly white fur in the chest area.
The population of black bears has grown from about 100 in the 1970s to over 4,000 in 2014. A male can weigh anywhere from 130 to 600 pounds; a female from 100 to 400 pounds. They have shown up in Worcester, northern Middlesex and Berkshire counties and younger bears have been sighted in other communities.
Biologists say that female bears are moving east, Mahler commented, and are most noticeable in the spring and fall.
“They are not fierce,” she said, when asked about the bear that killed the Rutgers University student out for a hike with friends last week.
“That bear was probably a grizzly,” said Mahler.
Usually, bears flee areas where humans congregate before they are seen.
In crowded areas where a bear is spotted, it is best to disperse the crowd in order to urge the bear to flee, Mahler explained.
“The bear will then just wander off,” she explained. “They’re just looking for food.”
In urban areas, the Department of Fish and Game advises people to leave a bear alone once it is sighted.
“Eventually, the bear will fade into the forest,” said Mahler.
She cautions people not to feed bears lest they become accustomed to human food and become a nuisance, even to the point of causing property damage.
“Don’t tempt bears,” said cautioned.
She also advises people to remove their bird feeders from April 1 through December 1 and to keep all trash barrels clean and free of food debris.
“Make sure all pet food is consumed,” Mahler said. “And don’t leave dirty dishes out at night. We also urge people to protect their crops and orchards,” said Mahler. “Protect livestock, too.”
As for pets, cats and small dogs are easy prey for a bear, coyote or fisher cat.
“Cats are known to lead healthier lives and live longer if they are house cats,” said Mahler. “Never leave them — or a dog — out at night and preferably keep cats in all the time.”
In the wild or in a neighborhood, never approach a bear and never intrude on a mother and her cub.
“Don’t assume a cub has been abandoned if it appears to be alone,” she said. “The mother will return.”
Stache said that some coyotes and fishers grow big and can stand on their hind legs.
“Animals follow power lines — they’re a track for them so it’s possible a bear could have come down from a northern location.”
If a bear was actually sighted on Sycamore Road, Stache said it most likely would have been a brown bear. Black or brown really has no bearing on the matter — both are considered dangerous.
Stache said it is important to remain calm and not panic if a bear is spotted. Eye contact also should not be avoided. Instead, walk away calmly. Also, if walking in the woods, carry an air horn or bear spray in case of an unexpected encounter.
Another bear sighting in Newton in June 2013 resulted in the killing of the bear after attempts by state environmental police to tranquilize it were unsuccessful. The Newton bear was in a tree near the Massachusetts Turnpike.
In Brookline, Mahler said there was a sighting in 2012.