CONWAY — Make sure your bird feeders are down and your garbage cans are secure — that’s the message from state Fish and Game as bear sightings are becoming more and more prevalent this spring.
While there is a strong natural food supply available to the bruins within the Granite State, officials are seeking to be proactive when it comes to human-bear conflict.
“All in all, they’re doing very well this spring,” Andy Timmins, bear project leader for Fish and Game, said by phone last Friday of the bears, that emerged early from their dens after a relatively short and mild winter. “This spring, the early green-up has helped (in terms of providing natural food sources).”
Timmins said there have not been a lot of bear complaints thus far this spring, although he was en route to Jackson after a bear had killed some goats there the night before.
“(With livestock) the use of electric fencing is huge,” said Timmins in keeping bears away from other animals. “I think we’re seeing compliance get better and better every year.”
Jackson Police Chief Chris Perley said a bear killed between five and eight goats at a hobby farm owned by Don Bilger at Whitney’s Inn, located off of Moody Farm Road.
“Fish and Game’s bear mitigation unit has set up a trap,” Perley said by phone Wednesday.
Perley said Patrol Officer 1st Class Ryan McDonald investigated the incident discovering “paw prints and hair,” and determined it was a bear that had killed the animals. Jackson PD set up a game camera in the area for surveillance.
“Bears, by nature, will return to the scene of a kill,” said Perley.
Perley believes he’s seen the culprit nearby. “There’s a very large male bear that has been seen regularly in the Carter Notch Road area,” he said. “He looks very big from 200 yards away.”
According to Timmins, “Den emergence by bears appeared to be a couple of weeks earlier this year. The strong spring sunshine, longer days and warmer temperatures stimulate many wildlife species, including hungry bears.”
According to the 2020 NH Wildlife Harvest Summary, available at tinyurl.com/3vksxf98 (select 2020), 1,183 bears were taken last year, the most on record.
“This harvest level was 42 percent above the preceding five-year average (836 bears) and 12 percent higher than the previous record of 1,053 set in 2018,” the summary states.
“The 2020 harvest level approximated 20 percent of the estimated statewide bear population (6,000) which was twice as high as that typically achieved (10-12 percent) during an average year. The increased harvest in 2020 was likely the result of several factors including concentrated food abundance, increased participation, and more liberal hunting seasons.”
In the White Mountains, 362 bears were killed (171 females, 191 males). This was 47 percent above the five-year average harvest of 246 bears. In Mount Washington Valley, 13 bears were killed in Albany (six females and seven males); 18 in Bartlett (six females, 12 males); 19 in Chatham (four females, 15 males); 16 in Conway (nine females, seven males); three in Eaton (two females and one male); two in Freedom (both males); four in Hart’s Location (three females, one male); 13 in Jackson (four females, nine males); three in Madison (one female, two males); and 11 in Tamworth (four females, seven males).
Timmins thinks the harvest was a record-setter because of the COVID-19 pandemic. “I think there were a variety of reasons why there was such a high harvest,” he said. “There was a lack of (natural) food, making the bears more vulnerable. We also saw a 15 percent increase in bear licenses since the pandemic started. That led to an increase in more people recreating and more families looking to provide for their families.”
Every March Fish and Game reminds Granite Staters that birdfeeders should traditionally be taken down by March 31.
“By taking action now, you can prevent
attracting a bear to your home,” Timmins said March 22. “Do not wait for a bear to get the birdfeeder and then respond. Doing so encourages foraging behavior by bears near residences. A single food reward will cause the bear to return and continue to search the area for food.”
Bear-human conflict mitigation is far more successful when people are pre-emptive, Timmins said.
Avoid encounters with bears by taking a few simple precautions:
• lean up any spilled birdseed and dispose of it in the trash.
• ecure all garbage in airtight containers inside a garage or adequate storage area and put garbage out on the morning of pickup, not the night before. Use a dumpster with metal locking tops and doors that are inaccessible to bears.
• void putting meat or other food scraps in your compost pile.
• on’t leave pet food dishes outside.
• lean and store outdoor grills after each use.
• inally, never feed bears!
For more information, visit wildnh.com/wildlife/somethings-bruin.
You can also get advice by calling a toll-free number coordinated jointly by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services and the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department: (888) 749-2327 (1-888-SHY-BEAR).