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Bear encounters on the rise

Union Leader Correspondent

June 30. 2014 7:55PM
State wildlife officials are stressing the need for common sense regarding encounters with bears, especially during the months of June and July when the animals' natural food sources are in a transitional period. That means taking down those bird feeders and securing trash containers. (COURTESY)

Residents around the state are being urged to lock up their trash and take their bird feeders inside in the wake of a rising number of black bear sightings, some of them a bit too close for comfort.

In mid-May, bears were blamed for a string of vehicle break-ins in a North Conway neighborhood. Local officials said it’s not uncommon for the animals, which are coming out of hibernation in the springtime, to raid cars while searching for a bite to eat.

On June 20, the presence of a wandering black bear cub forced local recreation officials to postpone some flag football games at Lyons Field in Pelham.

The wayward bruin, described as an older cub, was spotted by several people just before sundown.

In Milford, another bear, this one fully grown, made an early morning appearance on the Oval on June 26.

Staff at a nearby coffee shop reported seeing the animal wandering around the grassy area and strolling past the Milford bandstand before ambling up South Street.

Captain Matthew Bradley, emergency dispatcher for the Milford Police Department, said the department received about eight phone calls reporting the bear that day.

Bradley said the bear appears to have returned to the proverbial woods since then, as no further sightings have been reported. “It appears to have made its grand entrance and left,” he said. “We’ve had various wildlife sightings on the Oval over the years, but the bear was a first.”

Jane Vachon, spokeswoman for New Hampshire Fish & Game, said most of the state’s recent bear encounters likely stem from human misbehavior.

“People aren’t cleaning up their properties, they’re leaving attractants out,”

Vachon said. “Maybe they don’t even realize they have attractants, such as bird seed, on their properties.”

When you combine these factors with the seasonal shortage of traditional bear fare, summertime can be a tough season for humans and bears alike.

Andrew Timmins, a Lancaster-based biologist specializing in bear behavior, said the state’s bear population has remained relatively stable at around 5,600 animals over the past decade.

It’s the human population that continues to grow, Timmins noted, and that means tough times are ahead for the bears.

“The months of June and July are particularly tough times for us,” he said. “That’s when the bears’ food sources are shifting: all that lush, green vegetation from spring has hardened off and the summer berries aren’t quite ready yet. And the bears start looking for food elsewhere.”

At the same time, vacation seekers continue to flow into the Granite State, bringing with them unsecured food and plenty of it.

“The Dumpsters at the restaurants and campgrounds are a lot fuller,” said Timmins.

Stressing that bears inhabit all parts of the state, wildlife officials are urging folks to be “bear aware” this season by removing birdfeeders in the spring and summer, securing garbage, not leaving pet food outside and using electric fence to protect poultry and livestock.

State law prohibits people from intentionally feeding bears (the offense is punishable by a $1,000 fine) though some folks apparently missed that memo.

“Most of the bear complaints we receive actually stem from a small number of bears,” said Timmins. “Because once a bear becomes accustomed to humans and their food, their behavior is nearly impossible to break.”

Sadly, several bears have already been destroyed this season due to human interference: either by Fish and Game officers concerned about public safety or by homeowners taking matters into their own hands.

“The number of bears being shot by homeowners this year, mostly at unsecured chicken pens, is higher than ever,” said Timmins. “But most of these incidents could have been avoided if people were more proactive in the first place.”

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