June 07. 2016 8:00PM

After rehab, surviving 'Jackson Five' bears being relocated back to North Country

Union Leader Correspondent

Fish and Game wildlife biologist Will Staats, left, and Ben Kilham prepare a young bear for a relocation to Coos County on Tuesday. (John Koziol/Union Leader Correspondent)

LYME — Following their rehabilitation stay with Ben “The Bear Whisperer” Kilham, the New Hampshire Department of Fish and Game on Tuesday began moving a quartet of orphaned bear cubs back to the North Country.

Wildlife biologist Will Staats was joined by Andy Timmins, Fish and Game’s bear project leader. They tranquilized, tagged, and then transported three of the bears from Kilham’s facility to an undisclosed location in the upper reaches of Coos County.

The area has been identified as having ample summer food sources for the bears — three females and a male whose mother was shot and killed last fall by a hunter in Jackson. The fourth bear will join its siblings later this week at a spot a safe distance from potential conflicts with human beings.

Timmins was bullish on the bears’ future, saying he believed they would be “highly successful” on their own and back in the wild.

The cubs and their mother were once common sights in Jackson, where they were dubbed “The Jackson Five.”

The mother was no stranger to the town, said Timmins, explaining that she had been previously relocated from there to Pittsburg after becoming too accustomed to people.

She had come to rely on food that was either intentionally left out for her by residents or provided unintentionally via unsecured trash receptacles and still-hanging birdfeeders, he said.

With yet another litter of four cubs, the sow returned in spring 2015 but last October, a hunter shot her. Concerned that the cubs might emulate their mother’s behavior and share her fate, Fish and Game decided to capture and take the bears to Kilham. Over more than 20 years, he has rehabilitated and released 130 bear cubs.

While Kilham and Timmins are glad they can help orphaned bear cubs, both men are also frustrated.

A frequent cause of bear mortality is their being shot by a homeowner, said Timmins.

By law, a homeowner may shoot and kill an animal that is preying on livestock or poultry. But for just a couple hundred dollars, Timmins said, homeowners can bear-proof their animal pens and chickens coops by placing an electrified fence around them.

“We’d like to see no cubs come in,” said Kilham.

An electrified fence, “literally, can keep a bear out of anything,” said Kilham who on July 17 at 7 p.m. will discuss the “Jackson Five” and other bears during a presentation at the Whitney Community Center in Jackson.