Niagara County may have lost some human population, but it apparently has added to the wildlife variety. A bear recently shot in the Town of Somerset confirms the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation's suspicions there were permanent resident bears.
Across New York State, last year hunters killed more than 1,500 bears. That is particularly true in the Adirondacks, the Catskills and the Southern Tier: traditional bear territory.
However, that traditional territory has been expanding, as human population pressures push them out more into overgrown farmlands and into areas near people. That includes Niagara County, where a bear was recently killed by a hunter in a fruit-farming area in the Town of Somerset.
The DEC had reports of a mother bear and cubs in Niagara County from a reliable source. Newfane fruit farmer Jim Bittner said he knew there were bears around, because he had some rented beehives savaged by one a few years ago. Then, Bittner heard about the dead bear near one of his orchards.
"We do have some damage in some orchards we have been attributing to deer. There's a lot of deer rubs," Bittner said. "There's a lot of places where we think that the bucks have been trying to rub the velvet off their antlers, but we haven't suspected bear damage, but maybe I'm mistaken."
Bittner said he knew it was bears wrecking beehives for bee larvae, because one of his neighbors had one of those infrared cameras and it caught a bear and a beehive.
DEC Regional Wildlife Manager Ken Baginski said he does not get nuisance bear complaints in Niagara County like in the Southern Tier, where they go after cornstalks.
"We do get complaints of bears knocking down lots and lots of cornstalks in fields and farmers complaining about that," he said. "They're looking for a block of woods where everything that they need, they can find. So the problem happens when people provide unnatural food sources for the bears that are moving through and they stop moving," he said.
Baginski said that's bird feeders, grilles, in other words, food.