PATTERSON, La. (AP) — Though they'd normally still be in winter dens, Louisiana black bears are unusually active in St. Mary Parish,

For some reason bears in coastal areas couldn't fatten up enough for denning, so they're awake, active and hungry, Maria Davidson, the state Department of Wildlife and Fisheries bear expert, told The Advocate (http://bit.ly/1324wSY).

With nuts and berries in short supply, they're going for calorie-rich garbage and pet food.

"A bear's existence, he's about filling those calories. He's not a predator. He wants to get the most amount of calories in the shortest amount of time. He's an opportunist," parish black bear conflict officer Catherine Siracusa told The Daily Review (http://bit.ly/15UhYpv).

Residents need to take pet food inside at night and keep garbage in a clean, secure container, Davidson said.

The state and parish have given about 1,300 bear-proof garbage cans to parish residents. Use of such cans is not mandatory, and some are broken.

Until a broken can is repaired, "bag everything up. Tie it up as tight as possible," said Angela Gunner of Progressive Waste Solutions.

Siracusa suggested using ratchet straps to tie down the lids until the waste company can fix them.

A public meeting about bears is scheduled March 25 at Patterson City Hall.

Louisiana black bears were listed as threatened in 1992, mainly to habitat loss. They live in three areas — coastal St. Mary and Iberia parishes, the upper Atchafalaya Basin and the Tensas River Basin farther north.

They only create problems for people along the coast, where the habitat is marginal even in normal years and large subdivisions sit right on the edge of coastal woodlands, Davidson said.

"Every bear on the coast lives a short walk from a house," she said.

Davidson said she has trapped two bears in recent weeks and moved them away from neighborhoods in Patterson, and there have also been experiments with a special garbage can that blast pepper spray when a bear yanks a lever on it.

But harassment and trapping is only so effective, because the bears will keep returning if subdivisions offer a good source of sustenance, she said.

"You can't teach a bear not to eat," Davidson said.

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