Warmer winter has bears stirring already and looking for food, Fish and Game says
ASHLAND — The recent warm weather has roused black bears out of their wintry repose.
“It is early for bears to be coming out of hibernation, but they do come out of hibernation on warm days, like we’ve had these past two weeks,” said Patrick Tate, a biologist with the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department and the leader of the agency’s Furbearer Project.
Tate said that typically, bears — of which there are between 5,000 and 6,000 in the Granite State — come out of their dens in late March or early April. Once awake, the bears will immediately look for food close by.
Although they’re omnivores, bears survive on a largely herbivorous diet and rely on the annual “spring green up” to provide them with the grasses and plants they need early in the year.
Sometimes, as in 2016, however, the bears are ahead of the “green-up” and their search for food brings them into conflict with humans.
Semi-drought conditions last spring and summer prompted the Fish and Game Department and the U.S. Forest Service to issue a warning that said bears were targeting birdfeeders, garbage containers, campgrounds and chicken coops.
Fish and Game annually advises the public to take down birdfeeders after April 1, to bear-proof garbage containers, and to install electrified fences around chicken coops and small livestock enclosures.
Opportunistic feeders, bears “will take advantage of food left out ...,” said Tate, who added that it is against the law to feed bears in New Hampshire.
“Nothing good comes out of feeding bears,” said Tate. “A fed bear is a dead bear and usually they cannot be trained to leave human beings alone.”
Although there is a specific hunting season, bears that are nuisances can be shot by property owners at any time of the year. Fish and Game will trap and relocate such bears, said Tate, but sometimes the animals need to be euthanized. The agency also captures orphaned cubs that are deemed too young to survive on their own and takes them to Ben Kilham, a bear rehabilitator in Lyme.
Although he didn’t have a log of bear calls immediately available, Tate, who also monitors Fish and Game’s social media page, said that based on online posts, bears are coming out earlier than in recent years. He noted, however, that this year is “in line with what we’ve seen with similar years” when winter makes way for spring ahead of the actual calendar.
Tate expects that when the weather gets cold again, bears will go back to their dens until the next warm spell.
Tate advised people to avoid contact with bears and to call Fish and Game if there is a potential for danger to either humans or the animals.
While cubs — like the one spotted on Highland Street in Ashland last week and later captured and transported to Kilham’s facility — are cute, Tate said, they’re also wild animals and can be “highly dangerous.”
Cubs, he said, “have very strong jaws and paws and can do some damage to a human. Humans should keep their distance from any cubs.”
Regardless of when spring actually arrives, the important thing for the state’s black bears is that it arrives gradually, with what Tate called “a warm-up period.”
“But if temperatures rise rapidly, bears will come out and start looking for food, and that ‘green up’ will not have occurred.”
Tate said New Hampshire’s bear population is “very healthy,” noting that it is densest in the Lakes Region and is spreading to the southeast.
“Last year, we had two bears in Manchester and a bear in Durham,” said Tate.