From NH Fish and Game: Something's bruin, so don't feed the bears

May 19. 2018 8:19PM
A black bear visited a back yard and walked off with a bird feeder in its mouth. (UNION LEADER FILE PHOTO/NH FISH AND GAME)

It's springtime and that means animals are on the move - including bears.

Black bears crossing paths with people, though nothing new, is an increasing occurrence in New Hampshire. People can readily live and play in areas inhabited by black bears without any negative interactions, but it takes some planning on our part.

Bears are all about food, and they will easily adapt to our environment if it means gaining access to backyard foods. If we don't allow bears this access, we don't allow bear-human conflicts to occur.

There are an average of 600 bear-human conflicts reported in New Hampshire each year. In 2006, New Hampshire Fish and Game established a rule (Fis 310.01) that prohibits people from feeding bears, whether intentionally or inadvertently, because such activity may result in injuries, damage to property, or public nuisances. The most common types of food bears eat because of opportunity are garbage, bird seed, chickens, and pet food.

Bears have a keen sense of smell which allows them to easily find food. Additionally, they have incredible memories, which enables them to remember where they found food (often years later). Collectively, these attributes make bears very good at exploiting human-related food resources.

If bears become habituated to humans, this can eliminate, or severely alter, their natural behavior and foraging patterns, making it difficult for them to live their lives as "wild" bears. Bears that become habituated tend to get killed at a much higher rate compared with bears that avoid human-occupied areas. If a mother bear teaches her cubs these habits and those cubs pass this behavior to their own, then it becomes a vicious cycle that is hard to break.

"Bears are not generally aggressive, but they certainly do become conditioned and lose fear of people," said Andrew Timmins, bear biologist at the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department. "Bears that become too comfortable around people often get killed as the bear's 'lack of fear' is misinterpreted as aggressiveness.

"We routinely get asked to move bears due to conflict, but that is not a sustainable solution because other bears will replace the bears that are moved if the food source remains. Also, placing a bear in unfamiliar territory is hard on the animal.

"If you care about bears, keep them wild by securing food attractants around your home and property."

Residents are therefore urged to follow some common-sense steps. Take down birdfeeders from April 1 through Dec. 1. And regardless of the date, if a bear is active in your community, you should immediately stop all bird feeding activity.

Keep all garbage secured, keep barbecue grills clean, and do not leave pet food outdoors. When camping, keep food, including grease and scraps, in closed containers, do not store food or cooking gear where you sleep, and at night keep food in a closed-up vehicle or hang it at least 10 feet off the ground and 5 feet out on a limb that will not support a bear.

Keep your dog on a leash when walking in areas of known bear activity. A bear will defend itself from an approaching and aggressive dog. .

Most importantly, if you raise chickens, bees, or other critters, you need to protect your investment with an electric fence. Despite being strong and agile animals, bears respect a properly maintained electric fence. In the absence of an electric fence, the probability is high throughout our state that bears and assorted predators will eventually dine at your expense.

For more information on fence options, call the USDA Wildlife Service at 888-749-2327 (888-SHY-BEAR). To read more about black bears, visit the Fish and Game website at

Public SafetyAnimalsOutdoors

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