As the snow melts and warmer temperatures arrive, Vermont Fish & Wildlife officials are urging people to secure their yards after bear encounters more than doubled in 2022 compared to the previous year.

With food sources becoming more easily available to wildlife, animals may come seeking food near your house. In Vermont, bears come out of hibernation between mid-March and mid-April.

“Their strongest sense is their sense of smell, so odors are often the first thing that might draw them into a backyard,” says Jaclyn Comeau, a bear biologist with Fish & Wildlife.

To keep bears away from your property, she says to securely store your trash bins and eliminate anything unnecessary that gives off a smell. Comeau notes bears can smell bird feeders from far away.

“Store that garbage container inside a secure structure, like a garage, a basement, a secure shed, something that makes it hard for the bear to find it,” Comeau says.

Otherwise, she added, the bears will continue coming back every year. In 2022, Fish & Wildlife received 1,500 reports of bear incidents, compared to less than 700 in 2021.

“Bears are long lived, they’re smart,” she said. “So what we suspect is happening is that we have slowly been teaching our bears that they can find plentiful high calorie foods where we live, so they’re going to keep coming and looking for those foods until we can reteach them that those foods aren’t here anymore so this is not a place where they can spend their time.”

Bill Jenkins with the Vermont State Highway Safety Office said that as the weather gets warmer, more animals will venture near roadways, creating other kinds of hazards. Jenkins advises motorists to slow down if there’s wildlife on the side of the road, as they can be unpredictable.

“You shouldn’t be going on the road kind of daydreaming, just mindlessly following the road,” he said. “You should be thinking ahead and anticipating what could happen.”