Wildlife officials, police and New Hampshire landowners killed 32 nuisance bears in 2018, a number only slightly higher than previous years, a state wildlife official said.
Meanwhile, other data on the New Hampshire bear population — including the fall hunt and the number of orphan cubs — have jumped substantially, according to data the New Hampshire Fish and Game provided to the New Hampshire Union Leader.
The data reflect a population on the move and under stress because of a scarcity of summer berries, apples and fall nuts, said Andrew Timmins, leader of the bear project for New Hampshire Fish and Game.
Such scarcities take place every eight to 10 years, he said.
“When there’s no food, bears are pretty easy to find,” he said.
For example, hunters took 1,003 bears during the 2018 hunting season, an increase of 83 percent over the previous year. And as more bears died — either from hunters, landowners or on highways — the state rescued 48 orphan bear cubs this fall.
In fall 2017, it rescued none, said Ben Kilham, who operates the Kilham Bear Center sanctuary in Lyme. Sixty cubs, many who arrived emaciated, are spending the winter there under his care.
“We had to convert what was a cage to a condo,” he said. Most of the orphan bear cubs arrived at his Lyme sanctuary at 10 to 15 pounds; they should be about 40, he said.
He’s even delayed hibernation for most so he can fatten them up, he said.
In wildlife circles, 2018 has been the year of the bear.
In June, Fish and Game separated four cubs from the Hanover bear Mink, who was saved from euthanization by Gov. Chris Sununu in 2017, and relocated the mom to Clarksville.
In July, a bear invaded the home of a 71-year-old Groton woman, injured her and escaped.
Then in October, Fish and Game shot and killed two cubs that wandered into a densely populated residential area in Manchester.
Timmins said the number of bear complaints this year exceeded 1,000, compared to 600 for a normal year.
Thirteen nuisance bears were killed by Fish and Game or local police at the behest of Fish and Game.
Several entered homes. The Manchester cubs were deemed too close to heavily traveled highways. Two other bears got into confrontations with a dog in Lancaster near a chicken pen.
Another’s fate was explained this way: “Persistent all summer in Colebrook due to open dumpsters, dispatched due to no other options, can’t relocate,” reads the entry in the Fish and Game summary.
Nearly all the landowner killings involved bears and livestock.
“Cub shot for eating chickens,” read two entries for Aug. 26 from Tamworth.
Kilham said such bears are victims of the backyard chicken farmer trend that started with the last recession. He said the solution is an electric fence.
“There really isn’t any need for landowners to be shooting bears. It’s unfortunate, because what you get is a lot of orphan cubs,” he said.
The best way to reduce bear complaints is to follow Fish and Game guidelines, Kilham said.
He praised towns such as Lincoln and Bethlehem that have enacted ordinances to penalize residents who leave food out.
Fish and Game relocated only four bears all year, including Mink. Timmins said bear relocation is not a magic bullet. If a bear is moved but the food source remains, another bear will just move into the area, he said.
Wildlife officials moved Mink to Clarksville, which is about 120 miles from Hanover. Since then she has traveled hundreds of miles in loops.
“She got near (Hanover) a couple of times, but she’s not gone back,” Timmins said.
The bear has found a den and is spending the winter in a Connecticut River Valley town in Vermont, Timmins said. He would not be more specific, given her status and concerns in Hanover.
The hunting season was unusual not only for the large number of kills, but for when they took place. Timmins said hunters took 87 percent of their bears in the first month of the season, when the animals were still roaming for food.
With food scarce, they denned early, and the bear kill dropped off dramatically through October and November.
The early denning is a survival instinct, Timmins said. The bears hibernate early to conserve fat and energy that would be expended looking for food that isn’t available.
He said some bears will not likely survive the winter, and pregnant mothers that do will not likely give birth to multiple cubs.