Living with Black Bears

As spring arrives, bears are starting to emerge fron their dens, in search of food after a long winter. (Photo by Ben Kilham)

With the amount of snow we’ve had on the ground this winter, it’s hard to believe that spring is here, but it is!  The days are getting longer, birds are singing, and tree buds are starting to swell.  Before we know it this snow will melt away – I promise, it really will – more migrating birds will return, filling our early mornings with their eager songs. 

Frogs and salamanders will make their way on rainy nights to vernal pools, deep with snowmelt, for their early spring breeding.  And one creature, a little larger than most, will lumber out of their long winter’s sleep. Black bears will emerge from their dens with one thing on their minds – food! 

Food is one of the main drivers of black bear behavior.  It’s no surprise that it’s also the primary reason for negative bear-human interactions.  In early spring, as bears emerge from their dens, in search of food after a long winter, it’s common to hear reports of bears taking down bird feeders, getting into trash cans, eating pet food left on the porch, and otherwise getting into trouble with humans.  The bears are simply following their natural instincts.  Bird seed, human food (left behind in the trash), and pet food are simply too nutritious to be ignored, especially early in the spring when the bear’s natural foods are scarce. 

Many people may be familiar with the adage “A Fed Bear is a Dead Bear,” but it seems that many people may not realize how true that statement is.  Once bears make a habit of associating food with humans, they can become nuisance animals, which have to be killed to protect people and property.  Bears play an important role in the NH landscape and we love knowing they are sharing our beautiful forests with them.  Luckily, there are easy things you can do to help prevent these types of conflicts, and to keep bears on the landscape in southeastern NH.

Here are a few simple things you can do to avoid bear conflicts:

  • Take down your bird feeders on April 1st every year.  Clean up any spilled birdseed from the ground and dispose of it in the trash.  Don’t put your feeder back up until December 1st.
  • Secure your garbage in airtight containers inside a garage or other adequate storage area.  Put your garbage out the morning of pickup, not the night before.
  • Don’t leave pet food dishes outside overnight.
  • Clean and store outdoor grills after every use.
  • Avoid putting meat and other smelly food scraps in your compost pile.

By Emma Carcagno, UNH Cooperative Extension
Taking Action for Wildlife Spring 2015 Newsletter