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Andrew Timmins:  (603) 788-3164
Liza Poinier: (603) 271-3211
June 28, 2011

June, July Are Busy Months for Bears

Homeowners and Campers Should Take Precautions to Avoid Attracting Bears

CONCORD, N.H. -- The 4th of July marks the start of holiday and vacation season in New Hampshire and represents a time when many people will be camping, hiking, fishing and having backyard barbeques.  This popular holiday also marks the time when the greatest numbers of bear-human conflicts occur in the state. 

“July is the busiest month of the year in terms of conflicts with bears,” said Andrew Timmins, N.H. Fish and Game’s Bear Project Leader.  “If you live or recreate in New Hampshire, you’re in bear country and you need to do your part to prevent attracting bears.  Avoiding bear conflicts can be simple and involves managing and securing food attractants.  Homeowners and campers can prevent bear visits by taking simple steps like bringing in bird feeders and pet bowls, keeping barbeque grills clean and stored in a garage, or, if car camping, keeping all food and coolers in a building or vehicle with the windows rolled up.”  

When selecting a campsite for the holiday weekend, Timmins suggests that campers consider choosing a campground that uses bear-proof dumpsters.  “Many campgrounds in New Hampshire have done a great job reducing attractants around their facilities, which substantially reduces the chance of a conflict with bears,” he said.

Timmins asks all New Hampshire residents and visitors to do their part to prevent conflicts with bears.  “Preventive actions will avoid the chances of bears forming nuisance behavior, becoming habituated to human foods, causing property damage and are essential to maintaining the state’s bear population,” Timmins says.  “There is truth to the adage that ‘a fed bear is a dead bear.’  Once they get used to relying on human food sources, some ‘nuisance’ bears may need to be destroyed.  If you are intentionally feeding bears, you may be contributing to their death.  Don’t do it!  It is illegal.” 

During recent years, there has been an increase in bear encounters along popular hiking trails and at backcountry campsites.  Bears have learned that human-related foods are available in these areas, especially on busy weekends.  Bears have learned to follow hikers and “beg” for food and to raid tents and backpacks for food.  When food is tossed to bears, even if it is an attempt to divert the animal, the bear is immediately rewarded.  Once a bear becomes successful at this behavior, it is hard to break the habit.  If you encounter a bear, yell at it, make loud noise, throw rocks and sticks in its direction and make the bear uncomfortable.  The worst thing to do is to throw food at the bear, because that rewards the bear and perpetuates undesirable behavior.

The No. 1 rule for avoiding conflicts with bears while hiking and camping is to maintain a clean campsite.  All food, garbage and aromatic items (such as toothpaste and other toiletries) should be stored out of reach of a bear.  People should bring rope to properly hang these items.  Some remote sites contain food canisters; these should always be used when available.  Do not store food, garbage or toiletries in your tent.  To assist visitors, the Androscoggin Ranger District in Gorham has purchased twenty food canisters and is making them available on a first-come, first-served basis for up to five days. Visitors provide information (including phone and address), receive instructions on how to use and return the food canister, and then sign for it. Visitors will be responsible for the clean return of the food canister – either in person or by mail. For more information on this canister-loan program, go to http://www.fs.fed.us/r9/white.

Summer represents a somewhat lean time for bears, according to Timmins.  “The acorns that fell last fall have turned into woody sprouts that are now unattractive to bears,” he said.  “The lush spring vegetation has hardened off and is less valuable to bears.  Although the wild strawberries have recently ripened, the bulk of the important summer fruits that provide food for bears will not become available until a few weeks from now.”  This period of low food abundance, noted Timmins, causes bears to search out and utilize high-quality and readily available foods provided by humans, and is the main reason why the majority of bear complaints in New Hampshire occur during June and July. 

Take action to reduce the chances of a bear visiting your home or campsite with these simple precautions:

* Stop all bird feeding by April 1 or as soon as snow melts.
* Clean up any spilled birdseed and dispose of it in the trash.
* Secure 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.
* Avoid putting meat or other food scraps in your compost pile.
* Don't leave pet food dishes outside overnight.
* Clean and store outdoor grills after each use.
* Do not leave food, grease or garbage unsecured around campsites.
* Store food and coolers in a closed vehicle or secured area while camping.
* Finally, never intentionally feed bears!

For more information on preventing conflicts with black bears, visit Something's Bruin.

If you have questions about bear-related problems, you can 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:  1-888-749-2327 (1-888-SHY-BEAR).

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