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People seem to be spotting bears everywhere – are urban sightings on the rise in NH?

  • A bear cub sits in a tree along School Street in Concord on Saturday morning, May 26, 2018, after getting separated from its mother and two siblings. By the next morning, the bear cub was gone, along with the others. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • A bear cub calls for its mother off School Street near Concord Hospital on Saturday, May 26, 2018. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • A bear cub calls for its mother off School Street near Concord Hospital on Saturday, May 26, 2018. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • A bear cub climbs a pine tree near School Street in Concord on Saturday morning, May 26, 2018, after it got separated from its mother and two siblings. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • A bear cub climbs a tree on School Street near Concord Hospital after it was separated from its mother on Saturday, May 26, 2018. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • A bear cub climbs a pine tree near School Street in Concord on Saturday morning, May 26, 2018, after it got separated from its mother and two siblings. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • A bear cub searches for its mother on School Street near Concord Hospital after it was separated from her on Saturday, May 26, 2018. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff



Monitor staff
Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Judging from social media, there’s hardly a backyard in New Hampshire that hasn’t been visited by a bear since winter ended, but as far as the people who respond to such calls are concerned, it’s business as usual.

“I haven’t heard anything to believe that we’re dealing with more interaction than before. If anything, the number of complaints is a little below normal,” said Kent Gustafson, wildlife biologist for the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department, on Tuesday.

The folks at Fish and Game are the ones who get called when people are nervous about bears at their bird feeders or wandering through the yard, as happened Saturday morning on School Street in Concord, when a mother and what turned out to be three cubs were spotted climbing trees and enjoying life.

A conservation officer showed up and found there was no danger to people, bears or other animals. Eventually the ursine family wandered off, presumably into the nearby woods behind Concord Hospital.

The question is how accurately the number of calls to Fish and Game reflects the number of times people see bears. It may be that years of official notice about removing bird feeders so as not to attract bears has made people less alarmed when seeing a 200-pound black bear stroll by.

“I think a lot of the people who might have called us to say they have a bear in their backyard in past years don’t do that anymore,” Gustafson said. “People now, if they do have a bear coming to their (bird) feeder, they’re more likely to say, ‘Whoops, I should have taken that in last month,’ than to call us.”

Although large and potentially dangerous, black bears are omnivores that mostly eat fruit, nuts and seeds rather than other animals, and are almost never aggressive toward humans. There has not been a case of a fatal bear attack in New Hampshire since 1784, and cases where people are hurt even slightly by bear attacks are extremely rare, with only a couple reported in the past decade in the state.

The state’s black bear population has rebounded over the last 10 years for a variety of reasons, including reforestation of old farms. Close to 5,000 black bears are thought to live in New Hampshire.

“The fact that people are not concerned about normal bear habitat reflect the view of our staff. Bears are relatively benign until you teach them bad habits – the nuance is to be tolerant of and appreciate them, without contributing to the delinquency,” said Mark Ellingwood, chief of Fish and Game’s wildlife division.

The department usually kills a dozen or so bears a year because they have become so acclimated to people that they pose a danger. Occasionally this makes the news, as happened in Hanover last year when a mother bear and three cubs were going to be killed because they were trying to get into people’s homes, until Gov. Chris Sununu said they should be relocated instead. They were taken to the North Country; one of them was killed a few weeks later by hunters in Quebec, and the mother has since been spotted in Hanover, where she returned with new cubs – showing why officials rarely relocate problem bears.

Contributing to bears’ delinquency means inadvertently luring them close to homes with food such as bird feeders, unprotected bowls of dog food or poorly secured trash cans.

Other attractions, Ellingwood said, are beehives and backyard chickens, whose chicken feed is often as much an attraction as the birds themselves. In both cases, electric fencing is often necessary if bears are around.

“People who have been keeping bees know about using electricity, but a lot of people getting into chickens are having to learn rapidly,” Gustafson said.

“This is a big issue for us. A lot of people want to free-range their chickens; then they find out about foxes and raccoons and hawks and bears,” Ellingwood said.

Making life hard for foraging bears is good for the bears as well as for people’s property.

“The concern is that people allow bears to become habituated to our presence in such a way that causes problems,” Ellingwood said.

As wildlife biologists often put it: “A fed bear is a dead bear.”

(David Brooks can be contacted at 369-3313 or dbrooks@cmonitor.com, or on Twitter @GraniteGeek.)