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Mink, the Hanover bear, spotted in Woodstock Village

  • Mink the bear was photographed by Patricia Campbell in Campbell's yard in Woodstock, Vt., on April 10, 2019. (Patricia Campbell photograph)

  • Mink the bear's locations tracked from April until October 2018. (Courtesy N.H. Fish and Game Department)



Valley News Staff Writer
Thursday, April 11, 2019

WOODSTOCK — Patricia Campbell heard a thump outside her home on Hathorn’s Hill around 6:15 Wednesday evening and looked out her dining room window. There, just a few feet away, meandering across the driveway was a black bear sow that eventually sauntered into the woods like she owned the place.

“She was beautiful. She looked very healthy. She was sleek and... comfortably walking around and just didn’t have a care in the world,” Campbell said. “Except she’s hungry, I’m sure.”

It wasn’t just any bear, and there are others in the woods around Woodstock Village. This was Mink, the sow that was exiled to northern Coos County last summer after she had taught at least two sets of cubs to forage for food in downtown Hanover. New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu even intervened in 2017 to keep the family of bears from being destroyed because they had become too habituated to human sources of food.

Wildlife officials who have been monitoring the bear’s movements on a daily basis through GPS and a tracking collar confirmed on Thursday that it is Mink and that she had denned up for the winter in Pomfret and started moving around a week ago.

Andrew Timmins, the bear project leader for the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department, said he and his Vermont colleague, Forrest Hammond, checked on Mink in her den in Pomfret in March and said she weighed about 165 pounds, down from the 200 when she was tranquilized and transported to near the Canadian border last year.

He said the bear has traveled “thousands of miles” since June, including as many as 30 miles a day, and came within 5 miles of Hanover at one point last year, albeit on the Vermont side of the Connecticut River.

“She looked in surprisingly good condition considering how far she traveled,” Timmins, who swapped out her collar during the visit to the den, said Thursday morning. “She’s going to be looking for spring foods and trying to figure out where she is going to settle in. This spring is going to be pretty telling.”

Mink was not pregnant and does not have cubs this spring, and Timmins noted that the sow herself never broke into any homes, though two of her yearling cubs did enter a Hanover home in 2017. One of them was later shot in Quebec.

A map of the GPS tracking from April 2018, when Mink was first fitted with a collar, into October shows the bear roamed in circles around the North Country and into the Northeast Kingdom, then traveled south along the Connecticut River, roamed through parts of Grafton and Orange County, before eventually heading south toward the Pomfret and Woodstock area.

Mink had crossed the Connecticut River around Lancaster, N.H., Timmins said, an area where bears commonly swim across the river.

Bear experts said they were not at all surprised that Mink, named for the Mink Brook Preserve in Hanover, could find her way back to the Upper Valley, more than 125 miles from where she was released in the woods, but are surprised that she has been spotted only rarely, and apparently hasn’t raided any trash cans or caused other problems along the way.

“I do have to stress, we’ve been amazed that this bear, with as many residences she must have passed by, there have been absolutely no problems,” said Hammond, who noted that the GPS from later in the fall even indicated that Mink spent a night in a patch of woods behind his mother’s place, near Hartland Elementary School.

“I wish our other bears were acting as good as this one,” Hammond said. “It’s not what we expected.”

Timmins said Mink is “no more prone to getting into a conflict at this time than any other bear that is looking for spring food.”

Hammond said Mink had moved along to South Woodstock on Thursday and was unlikely to stay in Woodstock because there is another sow there, with cubs, that would not allow her in that range. The map of her movements, he said, would prove useful for determining travel corridors and “linkage habitat” that might also protect other wildlife.

Woodstock Police Chief Robbie Blish said there haven’t been any complaints about problem bears this spring, though they are prevalent in the area.

“We’ve got a very healthy bear population around the village,” said Patrick Bartlett, a consulting forester who manages several woodlots in the area. “I see bear signs every place I go now into the woods.”

Mink’s four cubs from her latest litter were rounded up last year and taken to a bear preserve in Lyme run by Ben Kilham, who rehabilitates orphaned cubs. Timmins said those cubs are likely to be released “in late May or early June, depending on when snow leaves the northern part of the state.”

Hanover Deputy Fire Chief Michael Hinsley, who played a major role in monitoring Mink’s whereabouts when she was in Hanover, said he had spent Thursday morning visiting rental housing and off-campus housing for Dartmouth students, reminding people to secure their trash, put away bird feeders and remove other food that would attract bears as they emerge from their dens.

“This animal in particular is very resilient, very strong, very intelligent,” he said of Mink, “but we need to try to do our best so that we learn from this experience over the last three or four years and modify our habits and protect the animals.”

News staff writer John P. Gregg can be reached at jgregg@vnews.com or 603-727-3217.



Mink the bear's locations tracked from April until October 2018. (Courtesy N.H. Fish and Game Department)