Carla Kolbe - A black bear passes through the cornfield near Brower’s Farm in Mayfield last week.
Carla Kolbe - An example of the destruction caused by black bears in a Brower Farm cornfield in Mayfield.
Carla Kolbe - Farmer Michael Brower stands with a shotgun in his cornfield.
By Carla Kolbe
MAYFIELD — Black bears are becoming more common around the Great Sacandaga Lake — from Edinburg to Northampton and Mayfield, according to the reports of witnesses.
Perhaps nowhere has their impact been a bigger nuisance than at the Brower family farm in Mayfield. During the past couple of weeks the Browers have discovered acres of cornfields destroyed, and their crop depleted by bears nightly grazing in their fields.
“There are easily 20 bears doing the damage,” said Michael Brower. “We can tell from the various locations, the different sizes, and the paths they choose to use.”
Brower has seen a sow with three cubs, another with twins, and another with only one cub, just for starters.
“That already totals nine right there,” he said.
Of the 16 acres of mature corn ready to pick, the bears had destroyed three acres as of Labor Day weekend.
The bears enter the cornfields, walk in five to 10 rows where the cannot be seen, and spend nights filling themselves on rows and rows of sweet corn. The farmers do not even know there is any problem until they enter the cornfield to harvest, and at the center it is discovered that rows and rows of corn are mangled and destroyed.
Now, tipped to the bears’ behavior, the Brower family can sit and hear the animals stripping the stalks, ripping open the ears, and chewing on the corn. The family has set up electric fencing, and will patrol the fields firing warning shots.
“This is unprecedented. Never have I seen so many bears in one season,” said Brower. “They have already destroyed over 20 percent of this year’s crop.”
What is most disturbing to Brower is the fact that the bears are so bold. Warning shots are fired to scare them away and within 10 to 15 minutes, they return. The bears are zapped by the electronic wire fencing, scaring them away temporarily until they devise another entrance into the field.
Brower was told by biologists with the state Department of Environmental Conservation that this summer’s dry conditions have forced the bears from the woods to seek other food sources. Their regular woodland diet of fruit and berries has not been as available.
“The DEC has been very cooperative but does not have the manpower to send someone to the scene. They did instantly issue me a nuisance permit to eliminate one bear,” said Brower.
Brower has not killed any bears, and does not intend to doing so, unless it’s self-defense.
The three-day Labor Day weekend is Brower Farm’s largest weekend of the year. Brower discovered at the end of last week, his white corn, a local favorite, was nearly depleted by the bears.
“Normally, I have 500 dozen ready for my customers. This year I had 50, and I heard the complaints about it,” he said.
The weekend bear activity has since decreased on Brower’s Farm. Brower has a couple of theories:
For one, the family was too busy with the holiday weekend to patrol the fields and really know for sure.
The bears may be responding to electronic wire fencing, and to nightly scares in the past few weeks.
Or, they have sensed that all the mature sweet corn is past, and are simply waiting for the next planting to ripen.
“I think these bears know it better than me, because they have been beating us to the mature corn all season,” Brower said.