CONCORD — While it may look more like mid-January rather than late March across the New Hampshire landscape, don't be fooled. Spring is here. The late March sun is strong and snow will soon start to melt fast. As the days become warmer, bears will start to get active and it is time to put the birdfeeders away until late fall. Some homeowners have already reported seeing bears at birdfeeders in different areas across the state. To help prevent bear visits, the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department recommends taking down birdfeeders from April 1 to December 1.
The Fish and Game Department urges the New Hampshire public to be proactive and take action now to prevent attracting a bear to their home. Do not wait for a bear to get the birdfeeder and then respond. Doing so encourages foraging behavior by bears near residences. A single food reward will cause the bear to return and continue to search the area for food.
While bear/human conflicts during 2013 (527 complaints) were below the long-term average (695 per year), 2012 was a challenging year resulting in a record total of over 1,100 statewide complaints, according to Fish and Game Bear Biologist Andrew Timmins. Nearly 10% of the bear complaints during 2012 involved bears at bird feeders. Additionally, another 40% of the complaints were the direct result of bears raiding unsecured garbage at homes and businesses. "These two common food attractants accounted for half of the total bear-human conflicts in that year and could have been easily avoided by removing or securing common food attractants around the yard," said Timmins.
"The rate of bear/human conflicts that will occur this spring and summer is unknown and difficult to predict. Bears went to den in good shape due to generally abundant foods (i.e., beechnuts, apples, mountain ash berries, and choke cherries) last fall. However, it has been a long denning season and bears have depleted considerable body fat," said Timmins. "When bears emerge, they will be hungry and food will be limited until spring green-up occurs. We are hoping homeowners will be vigilant and remove/secure attractants so as not to entice bears and create nuisance behavior."
Black oil sunflower seeds are simply too high a quality of food (high in fat and protein) for bears to ignore. Natural bear foods during spring and summer are generally high in carbohydrates and low in protein and fat. As a result, birdseed is high on the menu. If bears have previously acquired sunflower seeds at your home, they will be back looking for more. The best way to prevent attracting bears is to remove birdfeeders until December 1 and secure other household food attractants.
Homeowners should take action to reduce the chances of a bear visiting their home. Avoid encounters with bears by taking a few simple precautions:
* Stop all bird feeding by April 1.
* 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. If using a dumpster, inform your dumpster company that you need a dumpster with metal locking tops and doors that are inaccessible to bears and other wildlife.
* 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.
* Finally, never feed bears!
These steps will help to ensure that your backyard does not become attractive to bears and other wildlife, which is important because it prevents property damage by bears and because it keeps bears from becoming nuisance animals.