EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

June 12, 2013

Officials warn residents to avoid bear conflicts

The Eagle-Tribune

---- — CONCORD — The New Hampshire Fish and Game Department advises that purposeful and inadvertent feeding of black bears can result in serious bear conflicts and even the death of the black bears themselves, according to Fish and Game Wildlife Chief Mark Ellingwood.

“Any feeding of bears is ill advised and potentially illegal in N.H.,” Ellingwood said. “Of equal importance, feeding can and often does result in a tragic outcome for bears.”

Ellingwood said each year the Fish and Game Department and USDA Wildlife Services expend significant time and effort addressing bear problems caused by the purposeful feeding of bears. Even indirect feeding — allowing bears to access unsecured trash, dine at back yard birdfeeders, or habitually enter plastic-topped dumpsters — can lead to problematic behaviors that lead to the removal or death of a bear.

“In New Hampshire, the saying that ‘a fed bear is a dead bear’ is more than an old adage; it’s a reality that our staff has to contend with throughout the spring and summer months,” he said.

Each year, many bears graduate from being purposefully fed or gaining access to plastic-topped dumpsters, unsecured trash cans and birdfeeders to more serious behaviors, including home entries, that can result in the bear being killed.

A rapid increase in the popularity of backyard chicken coops in New Hampshire has been accompanied by an increase in the number of bear/chicken conflicts. Fish and Game urges people raising chickens to properly pen their animals (free-ranging or poorly housed chickens are a magnet for a myriad of predators), to use readily available electric fencing and to build secure coops. Doing so will save money, chickens — and chicken predators, including bears.

Many people fail to recognize their animals’ vulnerability to predation until after the fact, Ellingwood said.

“We’ve observed a notable increase in the number of bears being shot by the public for killing chickens in New Hampshire,” he said. “Beekeepers understand that the prudent use of electric fencing can prevent bear conflicts; backyard chicken growers can achieve the same success by adopting the same practices.”

There are ways to stop the problem.

“We can all help to eliminate the huge cost of conflict mitigation and the unfortunate killing of bears,” Ellingwood said. “Never feed bears; insist that Dumpsters have securable metal tops and side doors; properly secure your trash; protect beehives and chickens with electric fence; and take your bird feeders down when bear encounters are likely. Businesses with long histories of bear complaints can eliminate most, if not all, of their bear conflicts by acting before the tourist season to employ bear-smart trash storage systems. With public and commercial cooperation, we can eliminate most bear conflicts and in so doing, we can minimize the need to kill bears.”

Ellingwood said “sows require significant energy” to feed their rapidly growing cubs, and that all bears require significant fat stores to survive from five to six months in their winter dens.

“It should surprise no one that bears will travel many miles in search of human-related foods, particularly during the late spring and early summer when natural bear foods are relatively scarce. Removing bears is not a solution, it’s a short term fix with an unknown outcome,” he said. “By being bear-smart, we benefit our neighbors, our local police force, the Fish and Game Department, USDA Wildlife Services and our wonderful black bear resource. It’s time for everyone to buck-up and do the right thing for our communities and our bears. It’s the New Hampshire way.”

For more information on preventing conflicts with black bears, visit wildnh.com/Wildlife/Somethings_Bruin.htm.

If you have questions about bear-related problems, call a toll-free number coordinated jointly by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services and the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department: 1-888-749-2327 (1-888-SHY-BEAR).