Outdoors and Free
Thursday, August 12, 2010
Volume 4, Issue 33

Something’s Bruin In New Hampshire and It Ain’t Coffee

Do we have black bears in Goffstown? Indeed we do. I recall, a few years ago, when I saw one crossing a lower field below what is now the Rail Trail, not far from Danis Park Road. And, I have spoken to other Goffstown residents who have had bears come onto their properties. They are great to see and watch, but they indeed can be a problem at times.

Perhaps some of our readers might recall the unfortunate news from Tennessee of a six year-old girl being killed and her mother and two-year old brother being mauled by a black bear. It was a news story that was sure to have some New Hampshire residents feeling a little nervous about the Granite State’s 5,000 black bear population.

“Although bears should be treated as unpredictable wild animals, there isn’t any need to be alarmed,” says New Hampshire Fish and Game Department’s Bear Project Leader, Andy Timmins. “Bears generally avoid humans. Black bears in New Hampshire rarely show aggressive behavior towards humans. The last time a person died from a bear encounter in our state was more than 200 years ago.”

Black bear in Franconia, NH

Timmins further commented, “People don’t need to fear bears, but they should keep their distance and treat black bears as unpredictable wild animals. The surest way to prevent property damage and reduce concerns over human safety is to keep your yard, or campsite, free of attractants, including food garbage, birdseed and pet foods. You may need to take additional steps to protect items that can not be removed. For example, dumpsters should have a locking metal top that prevents access by bears. Beehives and livestock should be protected with an electric fence. To avoid bear-related conflicts, prevent bears from visiting and most of all, from getting in the habit of finding food on your property.”

Feeding bears is not only a bad idea, it may be illegal under a rule that went into effect in 2005. The law prohibits the purposeful or inadvertent feeding of black bears following a determination by Fish and Game that the feeding increases the likelihood of human injury or property damage.

Spring is a critical time when black bears are out and about, looking for food. During late March and early April, black bears leave their dens and begin feeding heavily on any available food resources to replenish their fat reserves that were depleted during the long winter denning period. During the denning period, bears typically lose 25% of their body weight. A lactating female with newborn cubs may lose as much as 40%. The greatest nutritional stress on a bear comes one to two months after they come out of their dens.

The New Hampshire Fish and Game Department recommends that homeowners should take action to reduce the chances of a bear visiting their home. You can avoid encounters with black bears by taking a few simple precautions:

  1. Stop all bird feeding by April 1 or as soon as snow melts.
  2. Clean up any spilled birdseeds and dispose of it in the trash.
  3. Secure all garbage in airtight containers inside a garbage or adequate storage area, and put garbage out only on the morning of scheduled pick-up, not the night before.
  4. Avoid putting meat or other food scraps in your compost pile.
  5. Don’t leave pet food dishes outside overnight.
  6. Clean and store outdoor grills after each use.
  7. Never intentionally feed bears.

These steps will help ensure that your backyard does not become attractive to bears and other wildlife. It is important for two reasons: 1. It prevents property damage by bears and 2. It keeps bears from becoming nuisance animals. By minimizing bear/human conflicts, we can coexist with these magnificent animals even as New Hampshire becomes more developed. There is some truth to the adage that “A fed bear is a dead bear.” Once they get to relying on human food sources in your backyard, some “nuisance” bears may have to be destroyed.

About The Black Bear (Ursus americanus)

The black bear is a large mammal with powerful limbs, a small head and rounded ears. Female black bears weigh 125 to 150 pounds. Adult males are larger, typically weighing 200-250 pounds. They have several color phases. Most in the northeast are all black with a brown muzzle. Some individuals have a small, white chest patch with a brown or tan muzzle. Black bears have five toes with well developed claws on each foot. They walk on the soles of their feet, just like we humans do.

Black bears range throughout Canada, except the north coast. In the United States, they occur in the Sierras, Idaho and Montana, south through the Rockies into Mexico, northern Great Lakes area, Ozarks, Gulf Coast, Florida, and New England south through the Appalachians to northern Georgia. The black bear is found in 10 counties of New Hampshire.

Black bears change their diet seasonally, taking advantage of available foods. When they emerge from their den in the spring, they eat grasses and other newly emerged and succulent plants. In summer, they shift to more nutritious foods including berries, fruits, roots, blossoms and insects. Hard mast, such as beechnuts, acorns and hickory nuts are the staple fall food source. When natural foods are not abundant, black bears will seek alternative foods auch as agricultural crops, bees from commercial hives, garbage, suet and sometimes live stock.

Black bears inhabit forested areas having thick understory vegetation. Wetlands and riparian areas are important components of their habitat. Optimal habitat typically includes large tracks of forest with little human disturbance. They are not true hibernators as they can be roused from their winter sleep. During deep winter sleep their heart rate and breathing drops 50 to 60 percent. Their body temperature drops by 7 or 8 degrees and they lose a quarter of their weight. Black bears usually den in brush piles, logging slash or hollow trees, under a fallen tree or under rock outcrops. Typically, winter dens are 5 ½ feet long and two feet high.

Black bears are solitary. Females begin breeding at 3 to 4 years of age and most breed once every two years. Two to four cubs are born in late January or early February while the female is denning. The young bears remain with the female throughout the next winter and disperse the following spring. During the spring, summer and fall, bears may be active during the day, usually at dawn and dusk. In areas with greater human interaction, bears tend to be more active at night. Adult male bears may range up to 120 square miles while females range over a smaller area, about 10 square miles.

So, be smart when encountering our black bears. Observe and take photos, if you want, from a safe distance and please do not attempt to feed them. Enjoy the sight of them while you can, but always be respectful to them.

Bob Harris can be reached via e-mail at: outwriter2@aol.com


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DISCLAIMER:  The opinions expressed by Mr. Harris are not necessarily those of the Goffstown Residents Association or its members

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