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New Hampshire warns campers of early bear activity

Thirteen-year-old black bear Squirty, one of Ben Kilham's cub rehabilitation success stories, is plagued by deer flies as she walks through the woods in Lyme, N.H., Wednesday, Aug. 1, 2007. Independent Wildlife Biologist, Ben Kilham, rehabilitates and researches black bears.  (AP Photo/Cheryl Senter)

Thirteen-year-old black bear Squirty, one of Ben Kilham's cub rehabilitation success stories, is plagued by deer flies as she walks through the woods in Lyme, N.H., Wednesday, Aug. 1, 2007. Independent Wildlife Biologist, Ben Kilham, rehabilitates and researches black bears. (AP Photo/Cheryl Senter)

The number of encounters with bears in the White Mountain National Forest is on the rise at the beginning of the season, leading rangers to issue early warnings and step up enforcement of rules designed to discourage bears from scrounging for a meal.

Nobody has been injured yet, but the black bears are getting bold, said Colleen Mainville, a spokeswoman for the national forest. One report said a bear tried to enter a tent while another was searching the back of pickup trucks for food. The state’s Fish and Game department estimated there are between 4,800 and 5,000 bears in the state. They are found in all 10 counties.

“We’ve been giving out tickets to people who don’t store their food properly,” Mainville said. “We really want to get on top of it.”

Most campers and hikers will never see a bear, but when the critters do find food, they learn quickly that they can mooch a meal from two-legged visitors. That leads to more encounters, which can be bad for both bear and human.

“Bears that get too used to people may have to be trapped and relocated or even killed,” forest officials said in a news release. “Remember, ‘A fed bear is a dead bear.’ ”

Rangers have begun to step up patrols, and visitors who fail to follow bear-safe rules can be fined $125 to $5,000 and face up to six months in jail.

The best way to reduce the chance of a bear wandering into a campsite is to keep the area clean and completely clear of food, right down to wrappers. Store all food either in the trunk of a vehicle or in bear-proof canisters that can be rented at national forest offices and visitor centers. Here are some other tips:

— Don’t leave any food, including condiments, out when not in use or when the party leaves the campground for any reason.

— Keep sleeping areas, tents and sleeping bags free of food and odor, including things like toothpaste, deodorant and candy. Make sure to check kids’ packs for snacks.

— Don’t sleep in clothes you cooked or handled fish or game in.

— Never bury or burn food waste.

— If camping in the backcountry, use a bear canister or hang a food bag at least 10 feet off the ground and 5 feet out from a tree limb that could support a bear, or better yet, pack and use bear-resistant containers.

— If possible, in backcountry areas, keep 100 yards between tents and food storage and cooking areas.

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