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Editorial: Smarter than the average bear

“Bears were very plenty. A woman on Sugar Hill, going after her cows, met one in the path; it would not turn out. She caught up a hemlock knot, struck the bear in the nose, knocked it over and killed it. . . . Hundreds of other bears were killed in the early times of Weare as the years went by, but the account has not been preserved. . . . The last wild one was seen in 1824.”

William Little, The History of Weare,
1735-1888.

Black bears, as several readers have pointed out, have made a comeback. The state is now home to about 5,000 of them. They range widely, especially the males, and more than a few at some point in the year find their way into urban areas. Assaults are regularly perpetrated on bird feeders, which should be taken in between April 1, when bears begin foraging after a winter’s fast, and mid-December.

Last week, Lisa Webb was in her family’s cabin in Madison when her dogs tangled with a large black bear that had made its way onto her deck. One dog was clawed badly. To rescue her pets and protect her daughter, who had followed her onto the deck, Webb picked up a child’s safety gate and whacked the bear on the nose with it. Unlike the bear the Weare woman is alleged to have felled with a hemlock knot, it did not die but it did flee.

In July an Epping woman with a blueberry farm told the police she believed that a bear had snatched the purse she left on her porch steps, something that could occur if the purse contained gum or something else with a scent that could lead a bear to investigate. It’s why campers are advised never to eat in their tent or keep toothpaste and food items in it. And in 2011, a Center Harbor woman was bowled over by a bear on her deck and pushed through the glass of her porch door.

Bears will be active for the next few months as they fatten up for winter. With the onset of a season when porches are decorated with corn shocks and pumpkins and garden produce is stored on porches, the chances of encountering a hungry bruin are far greater. That makes it a good time to review bear encounter etiquette.

Back away slowly when facing a bear, especially any bear that shows an interest in you. That means you’ve gotten too close. Raise your arms to look bigger and yell or clap to frighten the bear. Whatever you do, don’t turn and run. That will make the bear think of you as food. If the bear continues to approach, throw rocks or sticks at it. If attacked, follow this tip from the National Park Service: “If the black bear actually attacks, fight back. Use anything and everything as a weapon – rocks, sticks, fists, and your teeth. Aim your blows on the bear’s face – particularly the eyes and snout. When black bears see that their victim is willing to fight to the death, they’ll usually just give up.”

The latter advice, however, applies only to Ursus americanus, the black bear, and not to grizzly bears, which will find your resistance amusing and kill you. Better to curl up in a ball with your hands over your neck and play dead. First, however, since a wild grizzly bear in these parts would be a first, take a photo in case you don’t survive.

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