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Column: Killing Mink the Bear is Not the Answer

  • Mink with one of her cubs this spring.



For the Valley News
Saturday, July 14, 2018

I have been following the recent news about Mink, the black bear who has lived for about 15 years with various generations of cubs in the Mink Brook corridor behind my home in West Lebanon, just steps from the Hanover town line.

Mink recently was trapped and relocated to a northern New Hampshire location because she was seen in a Hanover dumpster foraging for food with two of her cubs. All four of her cubs later were also trapped and relocated to Ben Kilham’s Lyme bear sanctuary, where he raises orphan bear cubs and “rehabilitates” them for release into the wild.

I was privileged to watch Mink and her cubs closely this spring when she lived for a few weeks in the woods near me. I did not feed her or do anything to encourage her to stay. I also did not discourage her from staying, chase her away with noise, or report her to any officials. I simply watched her from a distance, along with other neighbors and some officials who knew she was there. We all left her in peace and she did not bother us.  

We enjoyed the company of a beautiful animal — a good mama bear to her energetic, playful cubs, who were still nursing.

At that time, I was told that Mink and her cubs would all be relocated together to a northern location when the snow melted and the cubs had weaned.

Later, I was told that maybe one of her current cubs, a small one who did not seem to be thriving, might be relocated to Ben Kilham’s sanctuary instead — with Mink and her other three cubs relocated up north together. This did not happen. Mink moved on from my woods in search of other natural food, and later she resorted to eating from dumpsters and garbage cans left unsecured in the Hanover area.

Then, unannounced — unlike last year when there was a public outcry that the Department of Fish and Game planned to kill her and her three yearlings, a plan quickly overturned by Gov. Chris Sununu — Mink was trapped by government officials and relocated up north without her cubs, even though they were not completely weaned.

I was told that the rationale for this decision was that Mink would not be able to integrate into the wild while also defending and providing for her cubs.

Officials also expressed the concern that Mink might try to return to the Hanover area, possibly in search of her cubs. Since she was relocated with her tracking collar, her movements have been followed, and the first report was that she was traveling north. According to an article in the July 7 Valley News, she had already traveled many miles.

In that article, Andrew Timmins from the Department of Fish and Game said it would have been better if Mink and her yearlings had been put down the last year because of the heartbreak she must feel at being separated from her cubs this year. The subtext of his comments is that she could, in another unannounced action, be killed if she returns to our area — or, as indicated by her tracking collar, if she seems to be returning to Hanover.

Many people share my concern that euthanasia might be Mink’s fate. However, Hanover’s problem with so-called “nuisance bears” like Mink was created by Hanover residents themselves. Mink has lived in the Mink Brook corridor for all of her 15-year life without being a problem to residents. Only in the last two years, when limited natural food was available to her, did she begin eating food from  unsecured dumpsters and garbage cans.

Of course, why wouldn’t she forage for this high-calorie food, especially while nursing four cubs? In the short time since she was relocated, at least three other bears have been seen in Hanover. They are trying to move into Mink’s old territory and forage the same unsecured food sources.

Why wouldn’t they do so, too? After all, they are hungry, and if they find food, they will return in the hope of finding more — and they will always return as long as there is food to be had.

I believe that the solution is not to kill Mink — or to kill any of these new bears or the inevitable next generations of bears that will follow them. Hanover must, as has been done successfully in other communities, require the use of secured, bear-proof dumpsters and garbage cans. The town should fine people who do not use them or who do other things to attract bears searching for food. Bears will not approach populated areas if there is no food for them there.

A petition has been started asking the government to not kill Mink if she attempts to return to our area in search of her cubs (go to change.org and search for “Mink Hanover”).

Certainly Mink will try to find her cubs. She’s a good mama bear, and her cubs are only about 6 months old, not “yearlings” of about 18 months old, the age when mother bears push their cubs away because they are able to survive on their own. The cubs are not orphans. They have a mama, and their mama, with all due respect to Kilham, is Mink, not him.  

My neighbor took the accompanying photo of Mink with, I believe, the small cub who did not seem to be thriving, the “runt” who was usually by her mama’s side. She is the spunky little cub who bolted across Mink Brook to escape the trappers, and who was the last of the four cubs to be trapped not too far from my home.

Kilham has done a lot of work with true orphan bear cubs, and he has contributed to our understanding of black bears and their social behavior. He has also helped to dispel the myth that they are inherently dangerous animals.

As a result of Kilham’s work, the town and Fish and Game officials should consider other options for Mink, including, as suggested in last year’s petitions, to relocate her and her cubs to a bear sanctuary — for example, to the Squam Lakes Natural Science Center or even to Kilham’s eight-acre, fenced sanctuary. The Squam Lakes center is a safe area that provides the opportunity to learn about animals, including black bears, and to watch them in a semi-protected, supported environment. That’s a better fate for Mink than killing her because she is just being a bear.

Carla Nordstrom, of West Lebanon, is a physician with a longtime interest in wildlife biology. As an undergraduate student at Stanford University, she studied under primatologist and anthropologist Jane Goodall.