The black bears are starting to end their denning period and be actively searching for any available food sources after a long winter. With a state-wide failure of hard mast crops such as acorns and beech nuts this past fall in New Hampshire, bears will emerge hungrier and in poorer physical condition than during typical years. Bear sightings in the Upper Valley have already been reported in a variety of communities in both New Hampshire and Vermont.
With the arrival of spring, bears will be much more likely to turn to residential areas and take advantage of any man-made food opportunities due to their poor physical condition. As a result, officials are asking the public to be both proactive and responsible by taking down bird feeders if they haven’t already done so.
According to the New Hampshire Fish & Game, residents can also help to prevent attracting bears by securing dumpsters and garbage cans and storing grills, pet food, and animal feeding stations when not in use. Because of the increased likelihood of human-bear interactions this spring, residents should take extra care to secure any possible food attractants. The easiest way to solve a bear-human conflict is to prevent it in the first place.
“Natural food sources that bears rely on were very scarce during summer and fall of 2018 and bears are now desperate for any available food,” said Andrew Timmins, Bear Project Leader for the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department. “Bear sightings in residential areas are typically low to nonexistent during the fall. However, the lack of natural food this past year caused bears to frequent these areas in search of high-quality, human-related foods such as black-oil sunflower seed.”
Building good bear-human relationships is far more successful when people are preemptive, and it is easier to avoid a conflict rather than resolve one. “Bears have an extremely acute sense of smell and long memories,” said Timmins, “so we really need the cooperation of residents this spring to prevent emerging bears from returning to locations where they were successful in finding backyard food sources. It is harmful for bears to become conditioned to forage around homes and in residential areas because they will lose some of their natural aversion to humans. Bears are much better off in the wild.”
Feeding birds is a hobby that puts bears at "incredible risk", said officials. Despite continued pleas asking homeowners not to feed birds during the non-winter months, bird feeders typically are the direct cause of 25% of annual bear-human encounters. There is abundant food for birds in the spring and summer; consider a bird bath or flowering plants that attract birds instead. In addition to bird feeders, other attractants include unprotected chickens and other poultry (23%) and unsecured garbage cans/dumpsters (38%).