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Officials renew calls to not feed bears after four cubs are orphaned

By JOHN KOZIOL
Union Leader Correspondent

November 04. 2015 8:47PM


JACKSON — As they continue to search for her four cubs, Fish and Game officials on Wednesday called upon the public to refrain from feeding bears — even inadvertently — saying the action is linked to the recent shooting here of a mother sow by a hunter.

Appearing in town this spring, the mama bear and her cubs were literally pop stars of sorts when the Inn at Jackson created a display called “The Jackson Five” as part of the annual “Return of the Pumpkin People” celebration.

But fame comes at a price, and, unfortunately for the mother bear, it was her life, said Andy Timmins, who is the state’s bear biologist with the Department of Fish and Game.

By law, hunters can shoot a bear with cubs, but Fish and Game urges them not to, said Timmins, adding, however, that a better solution to prevent bears from being killed is to remove the thing that brings them into contact with humans: food.

“We know she’s been fed for sure,” Timmins said of the Jackson bear, explaining that while there may have been some “direct” feeding going on, there was, as significantly, “inadvertent” feeding, which meant that trash receptacles weren’t properly secured and that in general, properties were not made “bear proof.”

Fish and Game first met the mama bear in 2012 when she and a dozen other bruins had congregated around an outdoor garbage bin in Jackson. The bear was captured, outfitted with a radio collar and then given a one-way trip to Pittsburg.

But this spring, as in 2013 when she also had a litter of four, she came back to Jackson, where her experience taught her she’d find food. Gradually, however, the bear grew to be a nuisance and entered several dwellings in search of victuals for herself and youngsters.

Once deemed a nuisance, a bear in New Hampshire faces several prospects, the most benign of which is that it will be caught and moved out of the area.

Depending on how big a nuisance it is, and especially if it poses a safety risk to humans, the bear may be killed by Fish and Game. A bear which has become too comfortable around people may also become prey for hunters, which is what Timmins said happened with the Jackson bear.

Annually, Fish and Game responds to about 600 nuisance bear calls, with about 15 of the animals subsequently killed either by the agency or hunters. Another five to 10 bears are shipped out of town, said Timmins, but that only removes a bear, and not the underlying problem that will attract another bear to replace it: the ready availability of human food.

It is illegal to feed bears in New Hampshire, although Timmins acknowledged that the practice is not uncommon. In his job, Timmins said he learned of a situation in Warren where someone had been feeding up to 30 bears for as long as 10 years.

“Obviously, that’s pretty severe,” he said, and many folks don’t go to such extremes.

Since the no-feeding law went into effect in 2006, Fish and Game has warned about 60 people to stop giving food to bears and, when the warning wasn’t heeded, has taken “a handful” of people to court, said Timmins, with some receiving the maximum fine of $1,000.

No one in Jackson will be warned in connection with the death of the mother bear, but Timmins hopes the bear’s demise will be a teachable moment for Jackson residents and the public at large.

“They think they’re helping this bear,” by feeding it, said Timmins, “but they’re not.” He noted that a major reason why the sow’s cubs are being sought is to prevent them from eventually sharing their mother’s fate.

Although they were reported to be in good health and carrying slightly more weight than their wilder kin, in large part, Timmins believes, due to their having enjoyed human food, the cubs could be at risk if they, too, adopted their mother’s eating habits.

Timmins said he was confident that the cubs would be found and once that happened, they would spend the winter with a wildlife rehabilitator before being released — many miles to the north — next spring.


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