Bear attack startles seasonal campers

By Gail Geraghty

Staff Writer

UNINVITED DINNER GUEST — This Maine black bear damaged Bob and Lil Brusseau’s motor home May 25 while trying to get inside, drawn by the smell of the hamburgers they’d just cooked on the grill. The Brusseaus are seasonal campers at the Bridgton Marina Campground on Long Lake, which is just one mile from Pondicherry Square.

Bob and Lil Brusseau’s recent encounter with a hungry full-grown black bear at a Bridgton campground underscores the fact that the bear population is on the rise in the Lake Region.

The Brusseaus, of Littleton, N.H., were sitting inside their motor home around 6 p.m. May 25 at the Bridgton Marina, a campground on Long Lake, just a mile’s drive from downtown. They’d just finished eating the hamburgers they’d cooked on their grill, when they heard a light noise against the side of the camper.

“Then we heard an awful bump. My wife thought a tree was coming down,” said Bob, a retiree who’s spent the last 25 summers with his wife at the quiet, seasonal, 60-site campground off the Pond Road.

Lil got up to investigate, but thankfully, she didn’t open the door. A hungry male bear was just outside — and he wanted in, in the worst way. Using his forepaws, he’d thumped the side of the motor home in frustration.

“It was not a huge bear, but it was a good size,” said Bob. “I wouldn’t want to get in a fight with him.”

The bear came sniffing onto the deck outside the door and ambled around to the front of the home. The  Brusseaus could only watch through the big windshield as the bear reared up on its hind legs, pawing at the glass. “He put his paws up as high as he could reach. He was trying to climb up the windshield,” said Bob.

The bear’s claws left scratches on the vehicle’s fiberglass sides and damaged the windshield wipers. The Brusseaus could only stare, and be ever so thankful that the door to the motor home was closed. “If the door was open, I’m sure he would have come inside,” Bob said.

After the initial shock wore off, they started taking pictures. Bob called over to his brother-in-law, who was staying at a nearby site, so he could see the bear, who paced around for a while before giving up the hunt.

It wasn’t Bob’s first bear encounter; in Middleton, he’s had bears got into his garage. One time, a bear came within 10 feet of him as he was reading outside. He’s seen plenty of deer, and occasionally a moose, while staying at the Bridgton campground, but this was his first Maine black bear.

‘They do just about what they want’

Jack Knight, a 20-year damage control officer for the Maine Warden Service, hadn’t heard about the Brusseau’s close call, but he wasn’t surprised. “If they’re hungry, they do just about what they want, because they’re pretty powerful.” And bears can smell food three miles away.

So far this year, he’s had roughly 18-20 complaints of nuisance bears around the Lake Region area. Just recently, he said, there was a report of a bear between Lake Region High School and Lake Region Middle School in Naples.

The earliest sighting this year was in March, in Sweden. There have been multiple bear sightings on the South Bridgton Road, Knight said, and a “real big one” was spotted on the Burnham Road in Bridgton.

“On Route 93 (in Bridgton), near the Kilgore Road, one person is feeding the bear, six at a time. He has for years,” Knight said. “It’s not good,” he said, and he definitely discourages the practice, but it’s not against the law to feed bears, so he said there’s little he can do.

The bear population in the Lake Region has been rising over the past six to eight years, said Knight, a Bridgton resident who is one of only a few animal damage control officers working with the warden’s service who handle bear nuisance complaints. “Ninety-nine percent of the problems are caused by people — not picking up their garbage, leaving food around, putting up bird feeders,” he said. “We’ve built our houses in their natural habitat.”

With the bear population coming up, he said, “A lot of people in southern Maine are not used to the wildlife,” and therefore don’t take the precautions that are second nature to people living in the northern half of the state.

Knight likes to keep a can of pepper spray handy. “That’s the best deterrent you’d ever have” against bears, he said. Some stores sell pepper spray designed for wildlife encounters that can spray up to 25 feet away. He always recommends putting grills in a garage or shed after using them, but he realizes that’s not an option for campers like the Brusseaus.

Knight said bear complaints should drop once blueberries, raspberries and apples come into season. Right now, he said, bears are competing for food with the deer and turkeys that are much more abundant than they once were in residential areas.

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