Bear calls nothing new for animal control

Black bears have been popular guests in backyards this summer, making media headlines by interrupting Monopoly games or stopping by to investigate bird feeders and suet surrounding residents’ homes.

Although their visits can cause a stir when people spot them, Bedford Animal Control is used to getting calls almost daily about their whereabouts, Animal Control Officer Steve Paul said.

“We get a lot of calls,” Paul said. “We get at least one call a day for bear sightings, sometimes we get a couple.”

Paul said there are about eight bears running around Bedford this year, keeping animal control phones ringing during the summer months. The sightings have been spread out fairly evenly around town, Paul said.

“Bears roam a pretty large area, they don’t stay in one area like a deer would,” Paul said. “They’re just looking for food. When they go into an area, they’ll hit a couple of bird feeders at a time.”

Though bird feeders are the biggest draw for the grizzly group of animals, trash cans and gas grills can also attract bears to a yard, Paul said.

“My best advice is make sure your bird feeders are taken down April to December and trash cans and gas grills are brought inside or covered up.” Paul said. “That’s usually pretty much it. If you don’t have any of those food sources in your yard, you’re good to go. They may pass through your yard but that’s their natural habitat.”

Development in greater Bedford often forces bears to come in contact with people’s homes, Paul said, but people should remember that before their homes were built, the bears may have reigned in that area.

“We have to adapt to them now,” Paul said.

If you do get a visit from Smokey or Yogi, there are a couple of ways to respond, Paul said.

“I tell people to keep the same distance away, never approach them,” Paul said. “If you feel the need to take pictures of them, stay inside the house and take pictures. If you encounter one in your yard, don’t run, whatever you do. Stand your ground. Make noise, wave your arms. … Clang pots and pans together. If you happen to have an air horn you can use that, too, to scare them away.”

Bear sightings may seem to be on the incline this summer, with a number of highly publicized encounters in Bedford backyards lately, but the number is actually pretty steady with the sightings in years past, Paul said.

“I would say its up a little bit but not a lot,” Paul said. “It’s a fair amount of calls, it keeps us busy and so forth. I hate to bring up the fact that winter’s fast approaching, so they’re looking for quick hits on food and so forth.”

The bears may not be gone for another four months or so, Paul said.

“Down here they tend to hibernate a little later, so you can be pushing the middle of December before some bears hibernate. Believe it or not, bears can come out of hibernation in the winter because they’re hungry, until they’re good to go until spring.”

An article in the Nashua Telegraph on Aug. 10 notes that the number of bear encounters in the southern New Hampshire region has shown no obvious increase.

In Nashua and southeast parts of the state, New Hampshire Fish and Game responded to 11 bear complaints in 2009, 10 in 2010, and has responded to seven so far this year. In the Souhegan Valley and Monadnock regions, they responded to 25 calls in 2009 and 18 last year.

“If I was to graph this, I don’t think it would show a trend,” Robert Calvert, wildlife biologist and the “wildlife damage specialist” for New Hampshire Fish and Game, told the Telegraph.

The bears spotted have very rarely attacked people, the article states. No black bear is known to have killed a person in New Hampshire since 1784, and the number of attacks of any kind is tiny.

Maryalice Gill can be reached at 594-6490 or