×

VIDEO: Hanover Bears to Be Trapped, Released in Northern New Hampshire After Governor Intervenes

  • Police believe three cubs and a sow seen on April 28, 2017, in Hanover, N.H., are the same family of bears getting into a Thompson Terrace home in Hanover. (Mark Laidre photograph)

  • New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu pauses as he addresses legislators his budget address at the State House in Concord, N.H., Thursday, Feb. 9, 2017. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)



Valley News Staff Writer
Friday, May 26, 2017

By Jordan Cuddemi

Valley News Staff Writer

Hanover — New Hampshire officials reversed course today, saying they won’t kill a mother bear and her three yearlings but will instead try to trap and relocate them to northern New Hampshire.

The decision, which came about because of the intervention of Gov. Chris Sununu, was greeted with enthusiasm by hundreds of people who worried the bears would be killed, but was also met with frustration from bear specialists and Hanover town officials.

The bear family for months have been wandering through a neighborhood near downtown Hanover and Mink Brook, eating trash from garbage cans and raiding bird feeders. And, last weekend, two of the bears entered a Thompson Terrace house that had several children in it.

“I am glad that we have been able to find a safe and humane option for these bears and I encourage residents to work with their local town officials to enact ordinances that could help avoid situations like this in the future,” Sununu said in a prepared statement.

Sununu on Thursday had called Lyme resident Ben Kilham, an independent wildlife biologist who specializes in bears, to discuss the situation. Kilham didn’t want to go into details about their conversation, but said Sununu had some bear behavior questions.

New Hampshire Fish and Game Bear Project Leader Andrew Timmins said he had not heard directly from Sununu before the decision was made to trap and relocate the bears.

The move overturned a determination Fish and Game had made earlier that the bears were so “habituated” that they needed to be trapped and “destroyed.” Timmins confirmed that the new plan was to relocate the bears to northern New Hampshire.

The plan was not met with universal acclaim: In a tweet this morning, top N.H. Senate Democrat Jeff Woodburn, who represents the North Country, told Sununu to “butt out, “let wild life experts do their job” and not to relocate the bears to his area.

Timmins had previously said relocation wasn’t a solid option because the bears likely wouldn’t be able to reintegrate into their natural habitat given their current behaviors.

He is still of that mind set, he said on Friday.

“I think it is very likely they will find their way home or land in a community where they will repeat the same behavior,” Timmins said.

In a telephone phone interview today after the decision to relocate the bears was announced, Vermont Bear Program Manager Forrest Hammond spoke highly of Timmins and said, “Almost every bear biologist I know of in every state that has a bear population” would have recommended destroying the bears in this situation, Hammond said.

Once the bears entered the house, Hammond said, “That is kind of the red line.”

Hammond, who is based in Springfield, Vt., said Timmins, of all the people in the field, is one of the most sensitive to the needs of the bears.

“He gives a lot of bears second chances that a lot of the rest of us might not,” said Hammond, noting that Vermont rarely relocates problem bears.

Several people in the Upper Valley were pleased with the governor’s decision to spare the bears. More than 10,000 people, many of them from outside New Hampshire, had signed an online petition to get Fish and Game to reconsider its decision, and dozens of residents called the governor’s office or Hanover Town Hall.

Enfield resident Nicole Cantlin, who started the online petition after the Valley News reported the plans to trap and kill the bears earlier this week, said she was overwhelmed with gratitude.

“I am so beyond happy that so many people came together to help the bears,” Cantlin said. “All of us want to thank the governor for coming and helping us out with this.”

She said she now plans to channel her efforts into raising awareness about “how this all came about and how we can avoid it from happening again. Thank you to every single person that is supporting this cause.”

Meanwhile, the family of bears appears to be on the move, Timmins said. The bears, who have been marked with paint balls, were spotted rummaging through dumpsters in residential areas in West Lebanon on this morning, he said.

Timmins attributed their move to fewer food attractants in Hanover. After the public outcry over the topic, he said some residents likely put locking lids on their trash receptacles, stowed their bird feeders and installed locking lids on dumpsters, so the bears are roaming to find new food sources. Officials have been pushing that campaign for over a year.

Though Timmins questioned whether the bears could be reintegrated into their natural habitat, Kilham said there may be some chance for rehabilitation in a new area of New Hampshire.

It won’t come easy though, and will take a lot of “human cooperation,” Kilham said today. If the amount of food attractants are reduced, “she very well can go back to eating natural food,” Kilham said of the sow.

Another factor that could change the dynamic may take place naturally soon. The bear family is only a couple of weeks away from breaking up, as breeding season is on the horizon. At that time, the mother bear will chase away her male yearlings, who will likely leave the area. A female yearling may stay around, Kilham explained. He said he’s been tracking the sow and believes she is 10 to 12 years old and she likely has several litters of cubs in the area.

Because the yearlings have already learned bad behavior, they could spread the problem to other communities. The plan is to trap them and relocate them before they split, but Hanover Town Manager Julia Griffin acknowledged that isn’t a simple task.

“Our bears’ range is extensive,” Griffin said, noting it stretches from Hanover into Lebanon.

Griffin said she has some frustrations with the governor’s office, who she said never reached out to update her on the situation. Instead, she said she found out through a news report.

Hanover officials and the Hanover Conservancy have been pushing an awareness campaign to try and put an end to the attractants that are leading bears onto people’s property. Town officials have been making repeated visits to problem properties and stopping to talk with residents about their unsecured garbage or bird feeders, she said.

One of her biggest challenges is reaching Dartmouth College students because off-campus housing turns over frequently, Griffin said. A new batch of students will be coming in a few weeks for the summer term, and then new students will arrive in September for the fall term.

Griffin said the town will continue to push the issue, and will likely put out a mailer to raise awareness. She noted that an ordinance fining people for leaving out attractants, which several bear experts have pushed for, isn’t likely to happen before Town Meeting next May.

“We aren’t inclined to do a special Town Meeting for this purpose,” she said.

Kilham, the bear expert, expressed frustrations with the human population’s lack of heeding to constant warnings to avoid these types of situations with bears.

“We wouldn’t spread $20 bills all over the lawn and not expect that someone would pick them up, but that’s what we do with food attractants. We just don’t take responsibility for our actions,” he said.

A learning experience has to come from this situation, he said.

Hammond, of Vermont, said the best long-term solution is an ordinance.

“If all of the people who are upset about this actually put their effort into a petition (for an ordinance) that’d be the best thing to come of this,” Hammond said.

Scores people in the Upper Valley expressed relief that the bears would be trapped and relocated, including Dean Brown, a Lebanon resident who lives off Route 10 not far from Mink Brook. He first saw the family of bears on a walk near Mink Brook last weekend.

When he learned they were to be trapped and killed, he picked up the phone and ultimately called the governor’s office. He said he was delighted to hear of the governor’s decision.

“It’s a wonderful stroke of life for nature,” Brown said. “The good people up here stepped in. Maybe we haven’t solved it all, but at least we have struck a blow for the right kind of consciousness.”

Jordan Cuddemi can be reached at jcuddemi@vnews.com or 603-727-3248.

Posted at 8:55 a.m. Updated at 1:33 p.m. and 6:40 p.m. For a full report, see Saturday’s Valley News.