CONTACT: Mark Ellingwood: (603) 271-2461
Liza Poinier: (603) 271-3211
March 13, 2002

Don't Let Good Bears Do Bad Things

CONCORD, N.H. - It's near the end of a mild winter and New Hampshire's black bears are waking up hungry and looking for their first meals in months.

For more information about black bears and how to prevent conflicts with them, click here to go to Somethin's Bruin in New Hampshire.

"The bears are up and out of their dens a little earlier than usual because of the mild winter," said Mark Ellingwood, a wildlife biologist for the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department. "We've already had several reports of bears raiding backyard birdfeeders."

For the benefit of both bears and people, Fish and Game's advice is simple: Put your bird feeders away and pick up the spilled seeds. Putting your feeders away -- before a bear strikes -- will save you the trouble of losing your bird feeder and of trying to deter a bear that's learned to find food in your yard.

"Usually we urge folks to put away their bird feeders by April 1," Ellingwood said. "But this year, given the mild winter and the fact that bears are getting up early, we suggest that people bring in their feeders now."

Black bears are one of New Hampshire's most fascinating wild animals. They have a highly evolved sense of smell and an uncanny sense of direction. But bears that learn to rely on human sources of food lose their sense of wildness and quickly can become a nuisance to many people, according to Fish and Game biologists.

"When bears come out of their dens, they're hungry and looking for food," said Eric Orff, a Fish and Game wildlife biologist. "And in the spring, when there's not much natural food available, some bears learn that bird feeders and trash bags are an easy source of food. For bears, it's a tough habit to break."

The bear that raids a bird feeder finds quick satisfaction with a fat-rich meal and soon finds other feeders in the neighborhood. "Female bears will often pass this habit to their cubs," Orff said.

"And once bears become emboldened, they learn that humans are a good source for all kinds of food, like trash, compost and barbecue grills."

Fish and Game biologists are learning more about black bears -- including the ones that have tangled with human food sources -- through a research project. Several bears in Berlin and Lincoln have been fitted with collars that have radio-telemetry and GPS (global positioning system) devices on them to let biologists keep track of the bears' whereabouts. "One of the things we've observed is that these nuisance bears are not long-range wanderers," Ellingwood said. "They appear to have some affinity for the problem communities they visit and they're ranging 2 to 5 miles from those communities. That's not a long distance for a bear."

Here are a few simple tips people can follow to prevent problems with black bears:

  • Birdfeeders: Remove bird feeders now; clean up seeds below feeders. Plenty of natural foods are available for the birds.

  • Garbage: Businesses should insist on bear-proof dumpsters. Keep garbage in airtight containers inside your garage or storage area. Garbage for pickup should be put outside the morning of collection, not the night before.

  • Compost: Don't put meat or food leftovers in your compost pile.

  • Pet food: Don't leave pet food dishes outdoors at night.

  • Grills: Clean up or store outdoor grills after each use.

  • Intentional feeding: Never intentionally feed bears. It's illegal and dangerous.

  • Camping: Campers should keep campsites clean; food should be kept in airtight containers in vehicles or out of a bear's reach -- never inside a tent.

For more information about black bears and how to prevent conflicts with them, click here, or call 603-271-3211. People with questions about bears also can call a toll-free phone number 1-888-749-2327 (1-888-SHY-BEAR), coordinated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Wildlife Services and the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department. The toll-free number is staffed during normal working hours Monday through Friday and offers advice about bear problems.

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