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GROTON — With more and more open space being preserved in town and the accompanying creation of “corridors” connecting conservation lands, the Nashoba Valley has seen a rise in its wildlife population over the last several years, including bears.

Becoming more common is the American black bear which has quickly become accustomed to the proximity of civilization and learned how easy it is to find food in suburban backyards.

Bear sightings in town have grown over the years as residents catch them passing through from one stretch of woodland to another or stopping to investigate trash cans, pet food left outside, or bird feeders.

It seems that bird feeders have become a quick draw for bears with numerous reports over the spring and summer of feeders being torn down from their perches or bird-feeder poles knocked to the ground.

For most residents, such incidents are disturbing and when a bear is spotted in the act, it’s frightening. When such events occur, state wildlife officials and local animal officers advise people to leave the bear alone until it tires and wanders off. If it lingers, make loud noises like banging pots together to frighten it off. By no means, it is warned, should the animals be approached.

However, as word has spread about the presence of bears in the area and how they are attracted by easy access to food around suburban homes, some people have begun to deliberately leave food out in order to attract bears for photos.

This is not a good idea, according to the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife, which warns residents to “keep the ‘wild’ in ‘wildlife:’

“Never deliberately feed bears to attract them to your property,” reads a statement at the department’s website. “Bears which become accustomed to humans and dependent on human-associated foods are likely to cause property damage and become a nuisance. The bear is then placed in jeopardy if you or your neighbors become afraid of it or seek to protect their property. Some towns may have municipal bylaws which prohibit the feeding of certain wildlife.”

Although the black bear may not be the largest in the bear family, it is not a small creature. The male can range in weight from 130 to 600 pounds and the female from 100 to 400 pounds. In Massachusetts, males have been averaging 230 pounds. Lengths range from 3.5 feet to 6 feet and shoulder height ranges from 2.5 feet to 3.5 feet.

Black bears are easy to recognize, being large-bodied and shaggy-haired with small eyes, rounded ears, and a short tail. As their name implies, they are typically black and sometimes sport a white patch of fur on their chest. At times, they can appear in brown or other shades depending on the season. Their feet are large and well-padded, with moderately-sized curved claws.

In recent years, conservation efforts have been successful. The bear population in the Massachusetts area has grown from about 100 in the early 1970s to about 3000 in 2005…and that is on the conservative side.

Far from encouraging people to think of these bears as cute and cuddly, the Department of Fisheries and Wildlife warn against deliberately feeding them as some in town have been reported to do. Residents have been warned to remove all temptations that might lure bears onto their property, including bird feeders, when bears are generally up and about after their long winter’s nap. Bears hibernate between Dec. 1 and April 1.

Residents are also warned not to leave pet food outside, to secure household refuse, and to clean up after barbecues or other outdoor meals. Bears are attracted to these food sources primarily through their sensitive sense of smell.

If possible, garbage cans should be brought indoors and trash should be doubled-bagged. Barbecue grills should be kept clean and degreased, and meat scraps, fruit remnants, or sweet materials should not be thrown in with the compost as bears will be drawn to them.

Deliberately luring bears onto private property simply for a photo can not only be dangerous to the homeowner, but unhealthy for the bear who may get out of the habit of foraging on its own or expose itself to harm on roadways or by frightened people.