WAYLAND — Look outside the nearest window.

Whether you're reading this in Wellsville, Wayland or some point in between, chances are you won't have to move far to find a view of rolling, forested hills in the distance.

More and more, it's safe to say that your gaze is going to fall upon the home range of a black bear.

"If you live in the Southern Tier, you live in bear territory," said Jeb McConnell, a wildlife technician with the state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC).

A Wayland family discovered that the hard way in recent weeks when a black bear made repeated raids on the sunflower birdseeds stashed in their storage shed on Rte. 21, about a mile from Loon Lake.

The pesky bruin warranted the attention of the DEC. Wildlife technicians set a trap for the bear — basically a road culvert modified with a trap door, plus some donuts and birdseed aimed directly at the bear's sweet tooth.

The bear took the bait, but one glance inside the trap told McConnell that this wasn't a typical day on the job.

"I've worked with a lot of bears," McConnell said. "I have worked with big bears before, but there was just something about the size of this one that I knew it would be one of the biggest ones I've ever handled, and it was."

The bear weighed in at a hefty 560 pounds, topping even McConnell's generous initial estimate. The Wayland bear was the largest he's dealt with in his career to date.

"It's not unheard of for them to get that big, but generally the average bear that we see is usually around 350 and doesn't really break 400," he said. "It's hard to age bears. Their weights fluctuate so much depending on the time of year. The weight as an age estimate is not really a good estimate.

"If I really had to estimate I would say generally a bear that has the ability to get that big could potentially be at least 7, maybe 10 years old. It could be older."

With the creature tranquilized, Marty DeLong — working his final day on the job, no less — climbed inside the trap to pull a tooth from the bear's mouth and fix tags to its ears. The tooth will tell the DEC just how old the big bear is when it's analyzed in the lab.

One thing is for certain — the bear had been eating well.

"Being that this one was a troubled bear, I'm going to assume that it was getting into some (human food sources)," McConnell said. "This house had bird seed for it, and I'm assuming it was getting into other people's property for food, garbage and things like that.

"Generally sunflower seeds are pretty high in fats, which is good for bears to bulk up weight on. Even though the seeds are small and they have to eat large quantities, it's a good food source for them."

Reducing bear confrontations

Reducing confrontations is the major goal of the DEC's trapping efforts, both with the problem bear and the humans who inadvertently provide them food. When it comes to finding a meal, bears may be more clever and persistent than some people realize.

"Bears are very smart," McConnell said. "They're creatures of habit, so once they learn that there's something there for them, they're going to commit that to memory. I always tell people that bears make their rounds. Just because a bear hits your house and is gone for a week doesn't mean the bear isn't going to come back. Once it got something there once, it's going to try it a second time."

Before expending its resources, the DEC makes sure homeowners are doing everything in their power to remove any food attractant. If the problem persists, as it did in Wayland, the DEC will get involved in discouraging the bear's behavior.

"These homeowners did everything we asked them to," McConnell said. "They cleaned everything up, and the bear had developed such a bad habit that it was still coming back and wouldn't leave them alone. That's when we decided to set the trap.

"Through the trapping efforts and being in the trap for probably five, six hours, and being drugged and handled by us, we're hoping that was enough to keep that bear away from at least that immediate area. Hopefully it will alter its behavior as well."

There's a few easy steps homeowners can take to ensure their property doesn't become a fast food joint in the eyes of any local bears.

"Try not to keep garbage outside in an accessible area," McConnell advised. "Make sure it's locked up in a garage. Birds don't need supplemental feeding over the summer. I know people enjoy seeing the birds, but if you're in an area where the feeders are being hit by a bear, it's just a good idea to take that stuff down — not for the whole summer, but maybe for a few weeks or a month just to make sure that bear doesn't learn to come to your yard."

A growing population

Taking steps to bear-proof property have become increasingly important as the state's bear population has grown over the last two decades.

From 1991 to 2000, hunters in the Southern Zone of New York state harvested an average of 207 bear. That average climbed to 782 from 2009-2013. In 2013, it was 978.

In 2014 it jumped to 1,110, setting a new state record.

"We know now that bears are doing very well," McConnell said. "They're growing in population. They're spreading. We have bears all the way up into Lake Ontario. We had a bear just last hunting season that was harvested in Orleans County, the first one in the books for Orleans.

"Everybody asks what's the number of bears in this area, and that's a hard question to answer, but hopefully soon we'll know a better representation of just how many bears there are across the state."

That answer should come in the form of a study the DEC is currently conducting in conjunction with Cornell University.

"It's across the whole Southern Tier of New York, five different DEC regions," McConnell said. "We have hair snares set up in the woods, which is basically two strands of barbed wire with a scent attractant in the middle. Our hopes are that bears will cross over the barbed wire to get to that scent attractant, leave a sample of hair for us and then we can analyze it for DNA.

"It's a four-year project, what we call a mark and recapture study. Basically it gives us a population estimate for bears across the state."

In the meantime, keep your eyes open ... and the garbage lids sealed tight.