Bear shootings on the rise across the New Hampshire
The number of bear shootings across New Hampshire could reach a record high this year, said wildlife officials, who are linking the increase to the growing popularity of backyard chicken farming.
In June alone, Fish and Game bear biologist Andrew Timmins estimated that people shot and killed at least 12 bears, which is usually the state’s average annual total.
“We’re easily at 15 now, and we still have two more full months of what we consider bear conflict season,” Timmins said. “If the rate continues at the rate we have seen over the last month, it will absolutely be a record year.”
Chicken coops have been the primary cause of conflict, he said. About 75 percent of the bears shot and killed so far this year were getting into coops when the owners pulled the trigger.
It fits into a rising state trend wildlife officials have noticed over the past decade, which Timmins called a new management crisis. Complaints of the bear-chicken conflicts have gone from a low of 12 in 2001 to a high of 127 in 2012, he said.
“It’s pretty eye-opening,” Timmins said. “These are the ones we have documented – not everybody calls.”
Most times the bears are drawn to the chicken feed, said Jason Ludwick, owner of Coops for a Cause based in Meredith. When chicken farmers keep the grain too close to the coops and in uncovered containers, it can attract the animals.
“Bears can smell that a mile away, just like they can a bird feeder,” Ludwick said. “You don’t want chicken feed outside your pen.”
And if they are lured by feed, bears will still kill and eat chickens, Timmins said.
In response, wildlife officials are encouraging chicken farmers to consider erecting electric fences around their coops and also to keep their feed in a secure location, like a garage.
Ludwick, who makes coops, suggested installing bolt locks on the structures or motion-censored lights that he said tend to scare predators away.
It’s important to consider the wildlife when putting in a coop, Timmins said. “If you put a food source out in your yard, you should be expecting critters to show up and take advantage,” he said.
Even though Timmins has seen an increase in the number of bear shootings this year, the number of complaints are on par with an average year. “It tells me people are going to the gun quicker,” he said, but added that he didn’t know why. “It seems like there could be more consideration given before that trigger is pulled.”
Under New Hampshire law, people can shoot animals to protect property, crops, poultry and their safety.
This year, the majority of the bears killed were shot by homeowners during a backyard conflict, Timmins said. And the incidents have taken place all across the state, including in Tamworth, Moultonborough and Sandwich.
Many of the bears killed were sows with cubs, he said. In those cases, Fish and Game tries to catch the babies to bring them to a state rehabilitator. “We feel compelled to do it,” Timmins said.
Two years ago, state bear rehabilitator Ben Kilham had 30 cubs and half were from chicken coop shootings, he said. The rehabilitation process costs about $1,500 per cub, money that he has to raise. He has 14 cubs now, and some of them are from chicken coop shootings. But some of those cubs whose mothers were shot at coops this year still have yet to be caught by Fish and Game. “So many years we did so well,” Timmins said. “This spring, we did not get a lot of them.”
On top of that, each year the department has to “take out” bears whose behavior gets destructive, which in most cases is brought on by human actions like intentional feeding. So far this year, the department has dispatched four bears – three from intentional feeding – and last week, the department had to kill one after a home entry.
The state’s bear population is about 5,000, a number Fish and Game considers stable. “We’re where we want to be,” Timmins said.
He said he hopes the message to be aware and consider mitigation options will get out to the state’s chicken farmers. “Bears are there for easy food,” he said. “They are not there to eat the grandkids.”
(Allie Morris can be reached at 369-3307 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.)