The Basso Family of Rockaway Township, N.J., had uninvited guests throw themselves a pool party this past Tuesday.
Seeking relief from the sweltering heat, a mama black bear and five cubs jumped in the Bassos' backyard pool. They stayed for about an hour, cooling off and playing with the toys in the yard and in the above-ground pool. The summer plunge was captured on video by Mrs. Basso, who watched safely with her husband and two children from inside their house.
The black bear pool party is the latest episode in the "rewilding" of America, illustrating how suburbanites are increasingly having to learn to live with their non-human neighbors. Last May, a black bear was photographed in Florida resting in a backyard hammock.
The Christian Science Monitor's Patrik Jonsson recently wrote about the return of the once endangered Louisiana black bear, and other species making a comeback in North America:
A potent combination of collaborative wildlife management techniques, cultural shifts in how Americans view large birds and mammals, the tenacity of the species themselves, and a cleaner overall environment have resulted in a record number of species being taken off the endangered species list in the Obama era, even as lawmakers start coming to terms with what it means to manage a country where raw, fanged wilderness now sniffs and grunts at the city limit.
“There is a rewilding of America going on, which is extraordinarily heartening,” says Andrew Wetzler, the director of the Land and Wildlife Program at the Natural Resources Defense Council, in Chicago.
Once nearly completely cleared, New England’s dramatic reforestation has been followed by an influx of wild animals. Not long ago, Vermont had a handful of black bears, and it now has 6,000. In a 2013 story for the Boston Globe, correspondent Colin Nickerson noted that, “Also newly abundant are gray seals, eagles, and once-rare pileated woodpeckers that now rat-a-tat on old-growth trees right at the edge of Boston. Dive-bombing hawks are an almost ho-hum suburban spectacle.”
The American alligator was once hunted to nearly extinction, and is now back with a vengeance controlled only by a month-long annual hunt. Chicago is benefiting from some 200 rodent-eating coyotes prowling inside the city limits. And after being extinct east of the Mississippi, mountain lions are again expanding their range eastward.
The trend toward backyard encounters with wildlife has been going on for more than a decade. The concurrent rise in the deer population and suburban sprawl has meant, for example, that more mountain lions have found good hunting in California and Colorado suburban neighborhoods.
"People should learn how to lion-proof their yards," Jim Halfpenny, an expert on mountain lions told the Monitor in 2004. "If you live in predator country, you have to predator-proof your yard. If you jog, don't jog alone – and consider carrying bear spray."
He recommended clearing underbrush in a yard, so nothing can sneak up. Take the barbecue and pet food inside. Lights in the yard are a good idea. And don't let young children play in the yard by themselves, he said, particularly at twilight.
Kevin Sanders, a naturalist and founder of Yellowstone Outdoor Adventures, writes on his website that bears are generally shy but "opportunistic and will search for human food supplies when natural foods are not available, or when they are easy to obtain."
Beyond the obvious draw of a swimming pool on a hot summer day, Mr. Sanders suggests focusing on eliminating attractive foods and smells from your backyard:
• In northern states like Montana, take down, clean and put away bird feeders by April 1. Store the bird feeder until early winter. (Birds will do just fine with the natural foods available.)
• Bear damage due to bird feeders is a very common and growing complaint. Do not begin feeding birds again, until mid-November when most bears have gone into hibernation.
• Clean up spilled seed below feeder stations.
• Keep garbage in airtight containers inside your garage or storage area until day of pickup. Double bagging and the use of ammonia will reduce odors that attract bears. Freeze food scraps before discarding into the garbage can.
• Garbage for pickup should be put outside the morning of collection and not the night before.
• A plastic garbage bag alone does not provide enough security. Always place bagged garbage in a secondary container.
• Do not place meat or sweet food scraps in your compost pile.
• Do not leave pet food or dishes outdoors at night.
- Clean up and/or store outdoor grills after use.Use a bear-proof dumpster, can, or store all garbage in a secure storage area without windows until day of pickup.
• Erect portable solar powered electric fences around fruit trees and gardens. Do not allow fruit or vegetables to rot on the ground.
• Compost Piles, if you must have a compost pile, enclose it with electric fencing. Don’t put meat, fish,melon rinds and other pungent scraps in the pile. Keep it aerated and properly turned. Add lime to promote decomposition and reduce odor.