Andrew Timmins: (603) 788-3164
Jay Martin: (603) 271-3211
July 31, 2020
CONCORD, NH – The New Hampshire Fish and Game Department continues to urge homeowners, campers, tourists, and those with dumpsters and chicken coops to be responsible and bear attentive throughout the rest of the summer and into the fall. Adverse bear–human interactions increased in the Granite State during the first half of the summer, and it is predicted that these encounters will continue into autumn.
The escalation of conflicts between bears and the public this summer has been caused by a variety of factors such as weather and human behavior. Drought-like conditions prevailed during the early part of the summer, which affected the availability of naturally occurring foods for bears. It is common to see an increase in complaints during dry years, including most recently the summers of 2012 and 2016.
“It appears that the abnormally dry conditions of the spring and early summer reduced the quantity and quality of herbaceous vegetation which is a significant component of a bear’s diet during May and June,” said Andrew Timmins, NH Fish and Game’s Bear Project Leader. “The lack of a soaking rain has also reduced or delayed wild blueberries and raspberries, two important soft mast crops which bears rely on for their summer feeding. When these natural foods are lacking, bears will exploit human-related food opportunities, which increases their presence in residential areas.”
Additionally, the COVID-19 public health emergency has kept more people at home, increasing the amount of human food attractants available to bears in people’s backyards. With the onset of self-quarantine and social distancing, more people continued to feed wild birds later into the summer season, while others started backyard chicken coops and “free ranged” their poultry.
As COVID-19 restrictions eased and the state began to reopen, New Hampshire’s campgrounds became very busy in late June. This resulted in more frequent calls from some campgrounds as bears began visiting campsites looking for food. “Most campgrounds in the Granite State do a very good job containing garbage and encouraging best management practices related to food storage around campsites,” said Timmins. “However, campgrounds that are less stringent tend to have more bear issues.”
Natural food availability has begun to improve in many areas as raspberries and cherries ripen and indications are for good blackberry, apple, and acorn crops this fall. But despite improving food availability, people need to remain vigilant and responsible with food attractants.
The primary causes of most bear–human conflicts are birdfeeders, accessible garbage, inadequately secured chickens, barbeque grills, and pet foods. Residents should secure dumpsters and garbage cans, bring trash out to the curb the morning of pick up, and secure grills, pet food, and animal feeding stations when not in use. Also, protect poultry, bees, and other livestock with electric fencing.
Preventing conflicts between bears and humans is far more successful when people are preemptive, and it is easier to avoid a conflict than to resolve one. “Bears have an extremely acute sense of smell and long memories,” said Timmins, “so we really need the cooperation of residents and visitors this summer and fall to prevent bears from returning to locations where they previously found food, because over time bears will lose some of their natural aversion to humans. Bears are much better off in the wild, and we need to do our part to not entice them near people with food attractants.”
Tips to help build respectful relationships with bears:
- 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. If using a dumpster, inform your dumpster company that you need one with metal locking tops and doors that are inaccessible to bears and other wildlife.
- Do not put 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.
- Finally, never deliberately feed bears. You will be encouraging these animals to rely on human-related foods which will deteriorate their wild behavior and reduce their chances of survival.
If you have questions regarding bear-related issues, 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).