WARREN — Despite reports of increased activity this summer by black bears searching for food around homes, businesses and at least one campground in the Grafton County town of Warren, a state bear expert says there have actually been fewer calls about nuisance bears than usual throughout New Hampshire.
“We’ve had a few complaints, but this year has been extremely quiet,” Andrew Timmins, Bear Project leader for the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department, said.
So why has Warren had a disproportionate number of bear complaints? They’ve been rummaging through trash containers and strewing the contents on the ground, and making more contact than usual with sometimes startled residents, business owners and campground guests.
Several weeks ago, people around town were saying a group of residents near the village had been feeding bears for years. When they stopped that practice this spring, the bears were deprived of a long-standing food source and had to expand their boundaries in the search for food.
Timmins confirmed those reports.
“There were upwards of 30 bears eating there over about 10 years,” he said.
A problem has also developed more recently in the neighboring town of Wentworth, according to Timmins, where some residents had also been feeding bears for many years, but recently decided they didn’t want the bears to come around anymore.
“They shut the cafeteria down,” he said, sending another group of bears on the hunt for food.
Timmins said trash containers that are not being properly closed and latched would be a powerful draw for the large animals. That’s a concern that seems to be being addressed in Warren, with some advice provided by a federal government bear specialist on the proper use of containers.
While the state’s bear trouble may be restricted to the Baker River Valley for now, a halt should be put on the deliberate feeding of bears everywhere, wildlife officials say.
Rob Calvert, also a wildlife biologist with Fish and Game, pointed out earlier this month that for the past three or four years, feeding bears has been against the law in New Hampshire. The first offense usually results in a warning, with citations and fines following for subsequent offenses, he said.
Timmins said another factor in the lower number of overall bear complaints this year as opposed to 2012 is that there now seems to be an adequate supply of food in the wild for bears and their cubs. That was not the case a year ago.
“2011 was a really good reproductive year for bears, so there were a lot of sows with cubs in 2012, which was one of the worst years for food. We had very dry, droughty conditions then, and nuts and berries don’t produce well in those conditions,” the bear biologist said.
Vicki Swan’s two side-by-side businesses in Warren, Fat Bob’s, an ice cream stand, and her woodstove and hardware store, were getting bear visits almost daily a few weeks ago, she said.
By last Wednesday, she’d noticed a decrease in their activity, she said.
“They’ve been discouraged from coming to our Dumpster,” she said, but they haven’t disappeared entirely.
“In the morning, we can see that they have had their paws on our tables,” at the outdoor ice cream stand.