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Watch for bears in Ashland hunting for midnight snacks

Black bears have been rummaging through Ashland garbage cans this week, looking for their share of holiday treats.

The Ashland Police Department received two separate calls about bears, one Monday and another Tuesday, Lt. Corey Falls said.

Kent Noonan, who lives above Siskiyou Boulevard on Waterline Road, said he awoke around midnight Tuesday to the sounds of a garbage bag being ripped open.

"I didn't see them but I heard a noise late last night and in the morning my garbage can was busted and I saw the tracks in the snow," he said.

After grabbing the bag of garbage, the bears headed east, toward Siskiyou Boulevard, leaving a trail of trash and two sets of footprints — one large, the other small, Noonan said.

"I'm glad I wasn't there to see them in real life, because those were big enough tracks that I would have been a bit worried," he said.

"They visit here once in awhile, but it's unusual here in the middle of winter," he said. "I figured they would be hibernating by now."

It's not uncommon for bears to be seen around Ashland, even in the snowy months, said Mark Vargas, wildlife biologist for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.

"This time of year especially, with the snow and the scarcity of food, some of the bears that haven't gone to sleep, they're going to be searching for some food in compost piles and garbage cans, which will bring them closer in to the fringes of town," Vargas said.

Some local bears don't hibernate at all during the winter because Ashland doesn't get as cold as some northern areas and human garbage provides winter food, he said.

"This often happens when there's an interface where there's a good habitat for bears and there's people nearby, and Ashland is a primary candidate, specifically in the foothills."

Since bears could be prowling in Ashland yards all winter, locals need to take precautions — for their sake and the bears', Vargas said.

"What we usually like to tell people is: 'a fed bear is a dead bear.' If people feed it on purpose, it's usually going to end up being killed because it becomes a problem," he said.

Vargas said ODFW recommends people put out trash cans only on the night before garbage pick-up, cover their compost piles, keep barbecue pits clean and bring in pet food and bird feeders at night.

"Nuisance bears, like most wildlife problems, are caused by people's behavior," Vargas said.

In other words — even though it's the season of sharing — it's definitely better to hold off feeding the bears holiday dinner leftovers.

Hannah Guzik is a reporter for the Ashland Daily Tidings. Reach her at 482-3456 ext. 226 or hguzik@dailytidings.com.