Hungry bears move to the US town amidst drought

With their normal summer diet of greens and berries shriveled by the worst U.S. drought in decades, hungry bears are rummaging through people's garbage, ripping through home screens and crawling into cars in search of food.

In northern New York state, a black bear clawed through the wall of a candy store on Main Street last week. Another locked itself in a minivan and shredded the interior in a frantic struggle to escape, according to the state Department of Environmental Conservation.

"We've been here 17 years and never had a problem with bears," said Roslyn Starer, who runs the Candy Cottage in Old Forge. "But it's been so dry the normal foods in the woods just aren't growing. So they're coming into town."

In eastern Kentucky, the U.S. Forest Service closed two campgrounds for a weekend at the end of July because of bears raiding picnic baskets and coolers. Biologists blamed the drought-related berry shortage.

In Colorado, where drought has dried up the berries bears rely on, a bear and three cubs broke into more than a dozen cars in the resort town of Aspen looking for food in June.

A surveillance camera in a candy store in Estes Park, Colorado, showed a bear making seven trips inside for candy in 15 minutes. A bear that broke into homes there last month was killed because it posed a danger to people, one official said.

Weather-related bear problems are nothing new, as natural food supplies vary from year to year depending on rainfall and other factors. But this summer has been a particularly busy one, wildlife biologists in New York said.

"In multiple communities, bears have gotten into people's homes, in some cases even when people were at home," said Jeremy Hurst, a big game biologist with the New York state Department of Environmental Conservation. "Half a dozen to a dozen bears have been euthanized. More have been trapped and relocated."
No human injuries have been reported in New York this year.

Bears typically turn to hard foods such as acorns and beechnuts in the fall to bulk up for winter. Paul Curtis, an associate professor at Cornell University, said a cold snap in April that damaged a lot of fruit tree buds also may have affected acorns and other wild nuts.

In Vermont, Department of Fish and Wildlife biologist Forrest Hammond said the department has recommended that farmers bring in their corn crops as soon as possible.
"The farmers are going to have a tougher time with bears," Hammond said.

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