September 26, 2007


State seeks comments on the growing black bear population


New York State Department of Environmental Conservation
This map shows the range of expansion of the black bear popluation from 1995 to 2007. Cortland County is shown in red.

Staff Reporter

In early June, 7-year-old Marissa Jenney looked out the window of her West River Road home in Virgil and saw something she didn’t expect to see loping past the fire pit — a black bear.
“I was pretty scared,” Marissa said Tuesday afternoon. “I thought it was a dog at first.”
Her dad, Steve Jenney, said the animal came down from the hillside at about 4:30 in the afternoon and wandered around the backyard for about 10 minutes before disappearing into a line of brush.
“All I saw was the cute little tail and that was the last of it we saw,” Marissa said, although Steve Jenney said they believe the same bear was seen a few hours later on Maybury Road.
Sightings of black bears in the county are becoming more common as the bears increase in numbers in other parts of the state and spread out to new territory.
There have been four reported bear sightings in Cortland County and two complaints related to the animals in 2007, according to the state Department of Environmental Conservation, although it’s likely that not all sightings are reported.
In response, the DEC is holding a series of public meetings across the state to discuss the bears’ resurgence and gauge popular opinion on the matter. The first meeting is being held at 7 p.m. Thursday at Tompkins Cortland Community College.
DEC Senior Wildlife Biologist Dave Riehlman said many of the bears documented in this area are “transient” bears, likely young males passing through in search of fresh territory and new mates.
“We don’t figure there is much in terms of a resident bear population,” Riehlman said Monday in his office on Fisher Avenue in Cortlandville.
After dramatic reductions in the black bear population in the 1800s, conservation measures were implemented that have allowed the bears to establish secure populations in the Adirondacks, Catskills and Allegany regions while pushing into new territory.
The DEC estimates that in the last 12 years, the black bear population has grown from an estimated 4,000 to 5,000 statewide to between 6,000 and 7,000.
The bears now have resident populations in neighboring Broome and Tioga counties to the south and are seen routinely in Tompkins County to the west and Chenango County to the east.
Riehlman said any bears moving into Cortland County would likely come from resident populations to the south.
“It’s the presence of breeding-age females that we use as the standard for where we have resident bears and where we have wandering, transient bears,” Riehlman said.
The average female bear weighs about 165 pounds and has a range of about 10 square miles. The average male weighs about 300 pounds and has a range of about 100 square miles.
Cortland County presents a fairly decent habitat for the bears, unlike the more developed corridor between Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse and Albany to the north.
“One of the things that we’re looking for with these meetings is where people are comfortable having bears,” Riehlman said. “Do people want bears to exist on the hillsides of Cortland County?”
Although Riehlman said healthy black bears generally avoid humans, attractants can draw the animals a bit closer than either people or bears are comfortable with.
Bird feeders, garbage cans, pet food and greasy barbecue grills present temptations for bears who will take advantage of a readily available food sources.
“The more used to people they get, problems will develop until the point where they’ll break into homes and vehicles and outbuildings,” Riehlman said, emphasizing the need to keep food sources out of backyards.
“If you remove the attractant, you usually effectively lose the bear,” he said.
A picture hangs inside the Virgil Town Hall depicting a bear on Artemis Drive, across from Greek Peak —it is feeding from a bird feeder.
Virgil Town Supervisor Jim Murphy said there have been a number of bear sightings in the town.
“After I saw the picture, I used to have a plastic garbage can that I kept my bird feed in, but I went and bought a metal garbage can. I used to keep it on my back porch, but now it’s in the barn,” Murphy said.
Bears also present a problem for farmers. As part of his presentation for the public meetings, Riehlman has an aerial photograph of a cornfield that looks moth-eaten — a lazy bear will plop down and feast on the nearby stalks until it runs out of those within its reach and has to move a bit.
Beehives are also susceptible to disturbances by bears, which Riehlman said enjoy “the eggs and larvae as much as they do the honey.”
Electric fencing around apiaries is an effective deterrent, he said.
If the public does not want to share the landscape with bears, Riehlman said the DEC would look into ways to expand hunting.
Anyone with a big game permit can take a bear in the Adirondacks, Catskills and Allegany regions.
Bear hunting is most established in the Adirondack mountains, Riehlman said. The season is timed to keep the bear population in check.
“On the other hand, the timing of the firearm season (in the southern region) was delayed in order to decrease the harvest of females,” which go into hibernation sooner than males, Riehlman said — curbing the number of females should also curb the total population.
In the Catskills, people are “fed up” with bear problems, Riehlman said, and the DEC is taking steps to expand hunting.
“As populations grow, you’re going to get to a point where, just based on numbers, a few bears are going to get into trouble,” Riehlman said.



SUNY breaks ground on new building

Staff Reporter

CORTLAND — The SUNY Cortland School of Education is about four years old, about the age of the 15 children who attended a groundbreaking ceremony Tuesday for a new building to house the school, which is currently in Van Hoesen and Cornish halls.
About 100 adults also attended.
The 30,000 square-foot building will be four floors and cost about     $13 million to construct. Construction started this summer with the demolition of a wing of Van Hoesen Hall.
Construction is expected to take about 18 months.
After sitting through the whole ceremony, all of the children donned hard hats and three of them used child-sized shovels to break ground.
When the SUNY Cortland Education Building is open within two years, the impact will not just be on SUNY Cortland faculty and students, but also on children from infants to preschoolers, as the Child Care Center moves into the new building’s ground floor.
Johanna Hartnett, executive director of the SUNY Cortland Child Care Center, said the center would be able to serve an additional 36 children. The facility is currently licensed to serve 67.
SUNY Cortland students in the early childhood program will also benefit, said Hartnett, noting the center currently serves around 50 college students a semester through volunteer opportunities, but will be able to serve 100 students each semester in the new facility.
“I think this will greatly alleviate the need for child care,” said Hartnett, noting there are 120 children on the college’s waiting list.
The center currently has an infant room, a waddler room, a toddler room and two prekindergarten rooms. One room each for infant, toddler and pre-K children would be added, increasing the number of classrooms from five to eight.
Hartnett said one area the center would like to expand is its universal pre-K. She said pre-K rooms have around 16 children. The center takes 15 to 20 percent of its children from the community; the rest are from SUNY Cortland faculty and staff.


City schools want gains in special education

Staff Reporter

The Cortland City Board of Education heard a report from special education officials outlining a state review process the district is undergoing to address poor graduation rates and high dropout rates of students with disabilities in the district.
Sue Woodworth, regional associate with the State Education Department’s Central Regional Office, said the reason the Cortland district was undergoing review is that among students entering ninth grade in 2001 and graduating in 2005 — only 18.8 percent of students with disabilities graduated.
The statewide baseline rate was 37.3 percent for this group. She said the dropout rate was also high with 43.8 percent of students with disabilities dropping out of school compared to the state rate of 18.9 percent.
Woodworth said the process used for the special education quality assurance review is more collaborative, with state officials working closely with the district in a team approach. The goal will be to make programs more effective to improve results for special education students.
Woodworth said there are three levels requiring state review: districts in need of assistance, districts in need of intervention and districts in need of substantial intervention. Cortland falls in the middle level — in need of intervention, she said.
“This is quite a concern for us in Cortland,” said Jacquelyn Stegeland, special education supervisor in the district.
She explained that the review process involved selecting 13 student files and reviewing the data, interviewing staff, visiting classrooms and reviewing by observing the Committee on Special Education process.
Stegeland said some of the positive impacts observed are an appropriate number of support staff in the district, special education students do have access to general education classes and administrators are flexible and supportive.
She said new this school year is the reorganization of ninth grade into teams, just as seventh and eighth grades are organized into teams, which keeps a group of students with the same teachers.
Stegeland said some things that need review include resource room projects, services designed to help students, the lack of documentation during the pre-referral process, and individual educational plans.




Groton revamps school weight room

$68,000 in new equipment replaces 1970s-era weights in high school

Staff Reporter

GROTON — Groton High School students and staff have $68,000 worth of new exercise equipment to work out on.
The school has replaced the 1970s-era equipment in its weight room
“It’s a lot better than the old one,” said 17-year-old Cody Street, a varsity football player. “Teams can come in and get a good workout.”
The conditioning room, once full of old hand-me-down equipment, now has nine new machines that target all muscle groups, a full set of dumbbells and several benches.
“It’s a world of difference between what we had and what we have now,” said David Remick, the athletic director at Groton Central Schools.
The school held a ribbon cutting and open house Monday night where parents, faculty and community members could watch demonstrations of the machines.
The facility is open to all 550 high school and middle school students and is used for physical education classes and by more than 25 sports teams.
The 200 faculty members at the district will also have the opportunity to use the equipment.
Valerie Senter, a 17-year-old varsity volleyball player, said a lot more students and faculty members have been coming to the weight room to use the new equipment.
Thus far, Remick said 35 faculty members have signed up to be trained to use the new equipment.
“We’re committed to lifelong fitness,” said Brenda Myers, superintendent of schools. “It gives our staff a chance to look at their wellness program as well.”
Myers said renovations to the room cost $68,000 and will be financed through a five-year contract with Advantage Sports and Fitness in Ithaca.
Sixty percent of the budget came from the school’s sports boosters, while the rest came from the district’s budget.
“This benefits all the athletic teams and students in grades seven through 12,” said Lorri Hunter, president of the sports boosters. “It was a very short renovation time.



Lowe’s tweaking C’ville project

Staff Reporter

Cortlandville — The town Planning Board briefly reviewed the proposed South Cortland Lowe’s home improvement store Tuesday night but held off on a more detailed look until the company can provide information requested by the town and the county.
Taylor McDermott, the senior site development manager for Lowe’s northeast region, said the company will need a few weeks to respond to the requests from a Sept. 19 county Planning Board meeting and from Tuesday’s town Planning Board meeting.
The 111,000-square-foot Lowe’s store, along with a 27,700-square-foot garden center, will be built in place of the existing 91,000-square-foot Wal-Mart store on Route 13.
The demolition of Wal-Mart and the construction of Lowe’s on that site would not begin until the new Wal-Mart Supercenter opens farther south on Route 13.
Planning Board member Nick Renzi requested that the store do its best to reduce the percent of lot coverage on the site — while the existing Wal-Mart store covers 64 percent of the site, the proposed Lowe’s would cover 73 percent of the 14.1 acre parcel.
Although the lot coverage requirements for individual projects is currently left to the discretion of the Planning Board, proposed revisions to the town’s code and zoning ordinances would require a maximum of 50 percent lot coverage in that area.
“If you reduced the number of parking spaces to get back to the 64 percent that the Wal-Mart had, that would be fine,” Renzi said.
The proposal includes 424 10-foot-by-20 foot parking spaces, as opposed to the existing 656 parking spaces.
McDermott said the current number of parking spaces is already below what Lowe’s would seek for a store this size but was confident that the 64 percent lot coverage could be attained.