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April 02. 2013 8:54PM

First bear sighting of 2013 reported in Merrimack

MERRIMACK - Authorities are reminding residents to be aware of black bears, as the first sighting of the year was reported this past weekend.

Residents on Naticook Road witnessed a small black bear eating from a bird feeder on Saturday night, prompting police to issue a Facebook posting.

"As we saw last year, the bears are beginning to come out of hibernation and boy are they hungry," said police, warning local residents to remove their bird feeders and follow several tips from New Hampshire Fish and Game to avoid an encounter with a bear.

By May of last year, there were at least 13 reports of bear sightings in town, mostly in neighborhoods throughout southern Merrimack.

"Merrimack is the perfect environment for bears because it is connected with woodlands and ponds. There is a large wildlife corridor there," Rob Calvert, a wildlife specialist with the state said last year. "It is a great bear habitat."

This week, authorities are reminding people not to approach any bears or disturb them in any way.

Representatives from the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department are being notified of the bear sightings. The agency recommends that if a person spots a bear, they should keep their distance and make their presence known by clapping, talking or making other sounds while slowly backing away.

Experts say to respect a bear's space and not get too close to the animals in an attempt to photograph them.

According to a release from the Fish and Game Department, bears are easily attracted to backyard food sources such as bird feeders and unsecured garbage. They recommend removing all bird feeders by April 1, and not to replace them until Dec. 1.

"About half of the annual complaints last year could have easily been avoided by removing bird feeders for the spring and summer season and securing garbage," said Andrew Timmins, a Fish and Game bear biologist.

According to Timmins, 2012 was a poor food year for bears, meaning natural foods will be especially scarce in the early spring. The best way to prevent attracting bears is to remove bird feeders and to secure other household foods by placing garbage in airtight containers, according to the release.

Experts are also recommending that pet food dishes are not left outside overnight, that meat and other food scraps are not placed into compost piles and that grills are properly cleaned and stored after each use.

"The New Hampshire public needs to be proactive and take action now to prevent attracting a bear to their home," according to the Fish and game release. "Last year was severe in terms of conflicts between bears and the public and resulted in a record total of over 1,100 statewide complaints."

According to Timmins, most natural bear foods were lacking during the spring and summer of 2012, in part because of drought-like conditions and a blossom-killing frost in May that led to poor fruit crops.

khoughton@newstote.com


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