HOPKINTON, R.I. (WPRI) — It’s that time of year when black bears emerge from hibernation.

12 News has received home security footage from two Rhode Island residents of black bears sauntering through their yards.

The Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (DEM) is reminding residents to be “bear aware” as the weather gets warmer and sightings increase.

Here’s what the DEM believes everyone should “bear” in mind:

How dangerous are black bears?

American Black Bears are the smallest species found in North America, according to the DEM.

While black bears are shy by nature and unlikely to hurt humans, the DEM explained that food sources, like “bird seed buffets,” are what attract them to residents’ yards.

The black bear population is currently on the rise in surrounding states, though there are only a handful of known resident bears in Rhode Island, according to the DEM.

Black bear sightings were more common in Rhode Island back in the 1800s, before the DEM said habitat loss drove them away. Rhode Islanders can coexist with black bears so long as encounters are minimized.

The DEM said black bears can emerge from hibernation as early as March, and their breeding season typically runs from mid-June through July.

Anyone who spots a black bear in their yard should report it to the DEM’s Division of Law Enforcement by calling (401) 222-3070.

How to prevent black bear encounters

Rhode Islanders who live in rural communities, as well as those in neighborhoods where bears have been previously spotted, should consider getting rid of all human-supplied food sources.

To minimize bear encounters, the DEM suggested the following:

  • Remove bird feeders: Only feed birds from November to March, when bears aren’t typically active.
  • Secure trash bins and dumpsters: Trash should be placed in containers and only put out on the curb the morning of trash collection.
  • Compost: Do not place meat scraps or fatty items in compost piles, especially ones that are left uncovered.
  • Feed pets inside: Avoid feeding your pets outside altogether or make sure to bring in their food dishes at night.
  • Protect livestock: Secure livestock (chickens, rabbits, beehives, etc.) in pens or buildings as far away from the woods as possible to prevent bears from accessing the animals and feed.
  • Gardens: Consider installing electric fencing around crops to prevent bears from

“We have a unique opportunity in the state to avoid problems with bears before they become established,” the DEM explained. “By teaching bears that backyards are not their personal grocery stores and humans are not vending machines, handing out snacks, we can keep wildlife wild and our communities safe.”

What to do (and not to do) if you see a black bear

Black bears primarily live solitary lives and tend to avoid human interactions, but if threatened may become aggressive.

When a black bear feels threatened, it will react one of two ways:

  • Nervous behaviors include retreating up a tree, swaying back and forth, head lowering, huffing and jaw popping.
  • Aggressive behaviors include growling, bearing teeth, nipping, lunging and charging.

Anyone who happens to run into a bear should do the following:

  • Remain calm and don’t run away
  • Ensure the bear has an escape route and is not cornered
  • Slowly back away when possible

The DEM said Rhode Islanders should never intentionally feed bears, since it is illegal to do so and will create problems for humans and bears alike. It is also illegal to shoot or kill black bears in Rhode Island.

If a bear becomes aggressive, the DEM suggests trying to intimidate the animal by making loud noises and trying to appear bigger. The DEM said anyone who is attacked should not play dead and should instead fight back using whatever is available.

Anyone who comes into contact with an aggressive bear should immediately report it to the DEM’s Division of Law Enforcement by calling (401) 222-3070.