Bear encounters on the rise?

  • A bear stands on Sarah Fortin’s porch in Mason. Courtesy photo

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 6/1/2017 12:36:34 AM

Sarah Fortin said it was Saturday around 7 p.m. when a massive black bear came onto her porch at her home in Mason.

Her husband, Edward, was grilling and had stepped inside for a moment. When he went to come back out, he saw the bear.

“This is the first bear we’ve seen all year,” Fortin said, adding that they have lived in the home on Wilton Road for 40 years and see wildlife frequently.

While she was surprised the bear was so close to their home, many wild animals have come across their property over the years. She said they have cherry trees on their property and bears tend to climb the limbs in search of food.

But they usually don’t come that close to the house, she said.

This year the bear got into a bird feeder that hangs near the porch. She said they keep it out when they are home, but take it in overnight and when they aren’t there.

Fortin said she was able to snap several photos of the big bear, and then it ran off. She posted the photo on a Facebook page called Living in Mason, where it picked up more than 100 “likes.” 

Fish and Game’s bear biologist Andy Timmins said despite what seems like a rush of Facebook posts, incidents between bears and people is not an increasing trend.

“It is something that we deal with every summer, that’s for sure,” he said.

Timmins estimates about 600 bear complaints are made to New Hampshire Fish and Game every year, sometimes more than 1,000, but very few reach the level of a bear entering the home.

“We’ve been able to stabilize bear-human conflicts, which not every state has been able to do,” said Jane Vachon, information programs supervisor at the department.

“Bears that enter houses are clearly ones that have been doing it habitually for a while,” Timmins said. “It usually starts with finding a feeder and that escalates to them entering your living quarters.”

Discourse in New Hampshire about bears and people crescendoed this spring when two members of a family of four bears entered a home in Hanover earlier this month. A debate over whether to kill the bears ended with the governor ordering them to be relocated to the North Country. They were captured and transported as of May 30, the department reported.

In a press release regarding the incident, the department said, “The Hanover incident has gained attention because it is unfolding in a college town ‘south of the Notches,’ rather than in central or northern New Hampshire, where such occurrences are more common.”

Thirty-eight percent of bear-human conflicts in 2016 were because of unsecured garbage, making that the top attractant of bears to residences. After that, 25 percent were caused by birdfeeders and 23 percent by loose poultry.

“Bears are finding where to get food based on odor, so make it difficult for the bear to get the odor,” Timmins said.

Vachon noted bear behavior is not going to change, so it is up to humans to keep bears from being attracted to yards.

Timmins said bears are not a threat to house pets, unless the pet is aggressive and forces the bear to become defensive. He said most complaints are about bears sniffing near doorways and climbing onto porches.

“Don’t leave food near doors,” he said. “And there’s no need to be feeding birds.”

Tips for making your area less attractive to bears can be found at the fish and game website, as well as Bear Wise, which Timmins recommended.

Should one still make it near your home, the key, according to Timmins, is to make it uncomfortable there.

If bears frequent the same area around your house, you should “address the attractant” by removing whatever scent the bear is picking up. Timmins recommends using a towel soaked in ammonia, leaving it by the door or attractant for a few days. This will burn the bear’s nose and cover up alluring scents.

“Make noise, like with a new car alarm or an airhorn is good, and you can throw stuff at it,” he said. “Whatever people can do within their comfort zone to make that bear uncomfortable.”

But Sarah said they like seeing animals on their property.

“People have said, ‘well now maybe you’ll take feeders down,’” Fortin said. “But what about the dumpsters, garbage cans, and compost piles?”

She said all of that attracts wildlife. And when they come, she said, she’ll probably snap a picture.

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript

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