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Big bear spotted near lake
Unwanted guest leaves a mess
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Forsyth County News
An unwelcome, burly visitor has residents of an east Forsyth County subdivision putting away their garbage cans and birdfeeders at night.

John Lalonde, who lives in Edgewater on Lanier off Bald Ridge Marina Road, said a large black bear first appeared in his yard about a month ago.

Three birdfeeders had been knocked over, but Lalonde and his wife disregarded the incident, thinking it was caused by children cutting through his yard.

They discovered they were wrong when they looked out a window Dec. 31 and saw a bear eating out of their birdfeeder.

“He ate all the bird food, then he moseyed over to my birdbath, got a drink of water and walked out the back,” he said. “We were saying, ‘Nobody’s going to believe this.’”

The messy intruder returned the next night. When Lalonde finally got a good look at the animal, he realized it’s about 6 feet tall and could weigh as much as 400 pounds.

“He was huge,” he said. “I’m from Long Island. I’m not used to bears.”

The bear has ventured into other yards on Lalonde’s street and destroyed garbage cans and fences in its search for snacks.

Scott Frazier, wildlife biologist with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, said the agency has been aware of at least one bear in and around Cumming for the past two years.

He said residents of Edgewater, which is east of Cumming near Lake Lanier, should keep food sources in places the bear can’t reach.

Trash cans, compost bins and bird feeders should be kept in garages or storage sheds. Frazier said bears are also attracted to cat and dog food.

If the food source is removed, the bear should eventually move on.

Frazier explained that Georgia bears don’t have a true hibernation cycle and will come out of their dens during warmer stretches in winter.

“Ongoing bear behavior at this time of year will be spotty because of the weather and the pseudo-hibernation,” Frazier said.

“We probably wouldn’t anticipate a protracted problem with this bear for the next month straight. But there may be periods of a day or a couple of days or a week where that happens and then it’ll probably drop out of sight for a while.”

He said there is a chance the bear will be a daily problem for the neighborhood this spring.

Frazier recommended not approaching the animal. He said behaviors the bear will show if it feels threatened include woofing, which sounds like a dog’s “harumph.”

The bear may also stomp its feet on the ground or bang its teeth together if it is uncomfortable.

“If you see it at a distance, then simply enjoy seeing it,” he said. “If you see it more close up, what you want to do is put space between yourself and the bear.”

He said the best way to increase the distance from the bear is by slowly backing away from it.

Frazier said the DNR likely won’t step in unless the bear acts indifferent or aggressive toward people, or if it continues to show up despite the absence of food.

He said the DNR’s Gainesville post, which covers northeastern Georgia, handled about 700 assessments of bear-related incidents in its region last year.

“It’s an ongoing problem,” he said. “It’s not very often in Forsyth County.

"We probably deal with a handful or less of bears around Cumming and it probably leads to 10 or 15 total complaints in any given bear season.”

He said the bear population is expanding, which may result in more sightings.

Forsyth County Sheriff’s Lt. David Waters said the animal control unit is equipped to handle the animal, if necessary, but would call in the DNR to help capture it.

“It would have to pose a serious threat before we would tranquilize any type of animal like that,” he said, adding that a veterinarian may also be consulted to determine how much tranquilizer to use.

“It is a wild animal, so everybody in that area needs to pay attention and always use common sense when there’s an animal like that around,” he said. “He is wild. He thinks wild, so you certainly wouldn’t want to put yourself in any type of jeopardy around that.”

Waters said there have been several bear sightings over the past few years in Forsyth County. The most troublesome episode occurred when a vehicle struck a bear on Ga. 400.

“That was the only major issue I saw that would put anybody in harm’s way and it was during a vehicle accident,” he said.

Lalonde said he and his wife recently returned from a cruise. A neighbor told him that the bear hadn’t been around while they were away.

The animal returned Tuesday night, however, after Lalonde had put out the birdfeeders in his yard again.

He removed them, but threw some bird food on the ground Wednesday. Sure enough, the bear came back.

The Lalondes looked out their window to see the animal on the ground, eating birdseed.

“He spent 25 minutes laying down in my backyard,” he said. “I gave up the first half of 'American Idol' just watching him.”

Ron Williams, president of the Edgewater homeowners association, lives down the street from Lalonde.

He said the bear seems to be sticking to their street and hasn’t ventured into the rest of the neighborhood.

“I came within about 15 to 20 feet of him in my backyard the other night,” he said. “My dogs actually went after him and ran him out of the yard, but he actually climbed my fence and got in my yard.”

The bear has also taken down Williams’ birdfeeders.

He said residents have been alerted by e-mail to put away potential food sources in an effort to encourage the bear to move on.

Another neighbor said she has stopped walking her dog at night, for fear of a dangerous encounter.