Image: Hungry bear
Donna Wiltsie  /  AP
In this May 9, 2012 photo provided by Donna Wiltsie, a bear searches a porch for food in Catskill, N.Y.
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updated 8/9/2012 12:32:02 PM ET 2012-08-09T16:32:02

With their normal summer diet of greens and berries shriveled by summer heat or drought in many spots nationwide, hungry bears are rummaging through garbage, ripping through screens and crawling into cars in search of sustenance.

In the Adirondack Mountain village of Old Forge in northern New York state, a black bear clawed through the wall of a candy store on Main Street last week; another one locked itself in a minivan and shredded the interior in a frantic struggle to escape, according to the state Department of Environmental Conservation.

"We've been here 17 years and never had a problem with bears," said Roslyn Starer, who runs the Candy Cottage in Old Forge with her son, Larry. "But it's been so dry the normal foods in the woods just aren't growing. So they're coming into town."

Starer came to the shop one morning to find a bear had ripped a big hole in the wall. "If it had gone much further it would have gotten into the shop, and the damage would have been devastating," she said.

Video: Buckling roads and fish kills: is extreme heat the ‘new normal’? (on this page)

This summer's bear troubles aren't isolated to New York. In eastern Kentucky, the U.S. Forest Service closed two campgrounds for a weekend at the end of July because of bears raiding picnic baskets and coolers. Biologists blamed the drought-related berry shortage.

In Colorado, where drought has dried up the chokecherries and serviceberries bears rely on, a bear and three cubs broke into more than a dozen cars in Aspen looking for food in June.

A surveillance camera in a candy store in Estes Park, Colo., showed a bear making seven trips inside for candy in 15 minutes. A bear that broke into occupied homes there last month was put down because it posed a danger to people, one official said, noting the drought has made the intelligent animals even more resourceful in finding food.

July is hottest month on record; drought expands across US

Weather-related bear problems are nothing new, as natural food supplies vary from year to year depending on rainfall and other factors. But this summer has been a particularly busy one, wildlife biologists in New York say.

"This has been an interesting year for bears, especially in the Catskills," said Jeremy Hurst, a big game biologist with the New York state Department of Environmental Conservation, referring to the mountain range north of New York City. "In multiple communities, bears have gotten into people's homes, in some cases even when people were at home. Half a dozen to a dozen bears have been euthanized. More have been trapped and relocated."

While property has been damaged by foraging bears, no human injuries have been reported in New York this year.

In the Catskills last month, there were three times as many serious bear issues such as home and vehicle break-ins as there were in the same period last year, Hurst said.

"Typically, complaints of bear damage peak in late spring, but this year, the frequency of bear complaints picked up strongly with the drought in July," he said.

The Northeast Regional Climate Center at Cornell University reported Tuesday that so far, 2012 has been the hottest year on record for the 12-state region. While conditions in the Northeast weren't as dry as some parts of the country, there has been moderate drought in parts of upstate New York.

Bears typically turn to hard foods such as acorns and beechnuts in the fall to bulk up for winter. Paul Curtis, a wildlife specialist with the Cornell Cooperative Extension and associate professor at Cornell University, said a cold snap in April that damaged a lot of fruit tree buds also may have affected acorns and other wild nuts. That could mean trouble for corn farmers, with bears fattening up in their fields, Curtis said.

In Vermont, Department of Fish and Wildlife biologist Forrest Hammond said food scarcity due to the dry summer was contributing to bear complaints. The department has recommended that farmers bring in their corn crops as soon as possible.

"The farmers are going to have a tougher time with bears," Hammond said.

Associated Press writer Wilson Ring in Montpelier, Vt., contributed to this report.

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Video: Buckling roads and fish kills: is extreme heat the ‘new normal’?

  1. Closed captioning of: Buckling roads and fish kills: is extreme heat the ‘new normal’?

    >>> good evening from london. once again tonight we begin right back in the u.s. this time it's about the summer of 2012 and the now official word that arrived today that the last month and the last year were the hottest ever recorded. the hottest of all time since they started keeping records. of course in terms of drought, we're feeling the effects this year. but look at the numbers from just today. little rock , arkansas, high of 101, tulsa 105, salt lake city 103. and in phoenix, arizona, a new record today of 114. and the news here appears to be we better get used to it. nbc's rehema ellis starts us off tonight.

    >> reporter: the signs have been everywhere, highways buckling, cracked earth across the midwest. today the government scientists who monitor the nation's weather made it official. july 2012 was the hottest month ever.

    >> it is a big deal . we have over 1400 months of record dating back to 1895 . we look at a month of data. there's a lot of observation that is go into that.

    >> reporter: in fact, the average temperature for this july was 77.6 degrees. that is 3.3 degrees hotter than the 20th century average. and that's just july. the biggest impact of all this heat is the drought.

    >> 33 years we've always had a crop. it's not looking good right now.

    >> reporter: more than half of the country experienced moderate to exceptional drought conditions at the end of july. that's up 7% from the month before.

    >> it is a large increase for any given month. you know, 7% of the country. that is a significant portion of the country. most of that has been driven by the warmer than average temperatures.

    >> reporter: heat and drought conditions set the perfect stage for wildfires. across the west and plains states wildfires have ravaged the landscape and people's lives.

    >> this is what's left of our house. it's dust and ash really.

    >> reporter: in july alone, more than 2 million acres burned nationwide. the heat impacted lakes and rivers, too. throughout the midwest, inland lakes with 83 plus degree temperatures are causing massive fish kills. what does it all mean?

    >> we could be looking at a new normal. the long-term temperature trend across the u.s. is increasing.

    >> reporter: a trend many americans might not want to think about warming up to. the white house has authorized an additional $30 million to help those in areas most affected by the drought. here in astoria, queens, until just a few moments ago, the quickest fix for all this would be a dip in the pool as this heat shows no signs of letting up. brian.

    >> rehema ellis starting us off

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