What a winter it has been — or lack thereof! Mother Nature has not fooled the bears either, and they are ready to emerge from dens in search of spring foods. Bears den primarily to avoid being active during a period of time when food is limited. Weather conditions do play a role in the timing of den entry and emergence, but the influence of weather on denning behavior is less significant than food availability. Select favored bear foods were abundant last fall and will continue to be available to bears for a limited time this spring. Additionally, there is limited snowpack around the state, so bears can easily find food in leftover fall mast. The bottom line — bears are not going to wait to the official end of winter to emerge from dens this year.
This knowledge should be a call to action for homeowners, who need to be proactive and take action now to reduce the chance of attracting a bear to their home. We generally use April 1 as the recommended time when bird feeders should be removed, says New Hampshire Fish and Game Bear Project Leader Andrew Timmins, however, this year we are suggesting that feeders be pulled by March 15.
“It has been an odd year for bears,” says Timmins. “Bears remained very active during December and early January. In late January, multiple calls came in reporting bears wandering around homes feeding on dropped wild apples and birdseed. Also, we experienced a phenomenal beechnut crop last fall. Bears fed heavily in beech groves into December and likely will again this spring. These nuts will provide bears an important food source this spring for a month or two.”
Even if there are leftover nuts in the woods, bears will take advantage of birdseed and other attractants found around homes. Black oil sunflower seeds are simply too high a quality of food (high in fat and protein) for bears to ignore. Furthermore, if bears have previously found sunflower seeds at your home, they will be back looking for more. The best way to prevent attracting bears is to take your birdfeeders down and keep them down until December 1, and secure other household food attractants.
Securing garbage is just as important as removing birdfeeders. If you secure your garbage and remove birdfeeders, you have addressed the two temptations that cause the vast majority of bear/human conflicts in New Hampshire. Removing these two common attractants will go a long way towards reducing the number of annual bear complaints. The N.H. Fish and Game Department thanks you for your efforts.
Keep in mind that spring is a critical time for bears, as the greatest nutritional stress on a bear occurs during the first two months after they emerge from dens. During the denning period, bears typically lose 25% of their body weight, and a lactating female with newborn cubs may lose as much as 40%. The New Hampshire black bear population remains stable, with a statewide population of approximately 5,000 bears.
Homeowners should take action to reduce the chances of a bear visiting their home. Avoid encounters with bears by taking a few simple precautions:
- Because of the mild winter, stop all bird feeding by March 15 or put away feeders as soon as you can.
- 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.
- 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 intentionally 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.
“The surest way to prevent bear/human conflicts is to keep your yard free of attractants, but you may need to take additional steps to protect items that can’t be removed. For example, dumpsters should have a locking metal top that prevents access by bears, and 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,” said Timmins.
For more information on preventing conflicts with black bears, visit http://www.wildnh.com/Wildlife/Somethings_Bruin.htm.