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Bear sightings were up in Wolfeboro this summer

ATTRACTED by the scent of ripening pears, a glossy black bear ventures out of the woods into a backyard on Point Sewall Road in Wolfeboro (Courtesy photo by Ron Paquette) (click for larger version)
September 09, 2010
WOLFEBORO — Bear sightings in our locale were up this summer, according to wildlife specialist Jake Borgeson. Bears were seen particularly in Wolfeboro neighborhoods, such as in and near the more densely populated Wolfeboro Commons condominium complex, and along Tuftonboro Neck. When natural food sources dried up in the early summer heat, wild blueberries for example, the bears came in for easier pickings.

"Bears are all about food," says Borgeson. "That's what rules their activity. They have their work cut out for them. They have a busy schedule."

Birdfeeders are a prime target, as is garbage. People may not intentionally be encouraging the bears to come closer to their homes, says biologist Andy Timmins, Black Bear project leader for the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department, but a bear can smell black oil sunflower seeds from even a mile away such is their ability to smell and such is their need to build fat stores as cold weather nears.

Black bears, who weigh an average of 200 to 250 pounds in adulthood, will naturally go for the high fat, high calorie sunflower seeds, and in the summer, the seeds are higher in calories than what else is available. The department recommends that people bring their birdfeeders in from April through December to discourage bears from visiting their yards.

"They're built to pack on fat in the fall," says Timmins, so in late summer, the search for food intensifies.

Bringing bird feeders in at night is not an effective deterrent, for though bears forage primarily at night and around dawn and dusk, they have been seen feeding during daylight, too. They will also come in to the yard to eat the seed that has dropped underneath the feeder during the day. Timmins sees the persistent habit of feeding birds in the summer " just so someone can sit and eat breakfast inside and watch the birds" as "selfish," for it only encourages the bear activity and often "ends up badly for the bears."

Instead, he suggests planting shrubs and trees that have berries that the birds like near your window varieties like dogwood, vibernum, autumn olive, or blueberries, to name a few. Fall planting weather is around the corner. Or better yet, get outside and do some bird-watching.

To the issue of garbage, Timmins says that if you put your garbage out on the curb for pickup, avoid putting it out before you go to bed, for that increases the time for the bear to pick up the scent and come to investigate. You're better off to just leave it out in an airtight container for as short a time as possible in the morning. Also, pouring a little ammonia into the container or placing rags doused with ammonia on top of your pile of plastic bags is likely to put them off the scent.

If you have birdseed to store in the spring, make sure to place it, like the garbage, in an airtight bin. It's all about containing the scent, for once a bear knows there is seed in a shed, he will naturally use his claws, which are built for digging decaying trees for insects, to tear apart plywood.

And when you barbecue, leave the grill on long enough to burn off any excess fat; bears have been known to drag them into the woods to lick off the fat.

Borgeson estimates the number of bears state-wide to be around 4,500 to 5,000, a stable population, and notes that though there have been many residential bear sightings this year, one bear can cover a lot of ground.

The experts say that bears are not aggressive. He explains that a bear will stand upright on its hind legs in what humans might interpret as threatening behavior, but the bear, who has very poor eyesight, is actually just trying to catch a better scent. "Once he recognizes you are a human, he's turn and run in a flash," says Timmins.

In the fall, bears will gravitate to places where acorns and beechnuts are abundant, and if people cooperate as a community to follow the guidelines for deterring them, the tales of dumpster diving bruins will dissipate. Timmins says the younger adolescent bears who lumber into your yard after a scent "are waiting to be told to leave," and it's likely that once they discover that there are humans near the food they want, they tend to stay away.

So, keep the lids on that garbage and put the birdfeeders away, please, until the bears hibernate in December. Domestic food sources bring bears a little too close for comfort, and whether intentional or not, can be bad news for the bears.

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