×

Family of Bears Captured, Transported Out of Hanover (Video)

  • Valley News video by Jennifer Hauck in Hanover, N.H., June 29, 2018.

  • Hanover Town Manager Julia Griffin helps lift a bear cub over an electric fence with Hanover Deputy Fire Chief Michael Hinsley on June 29, 2018 in Hanover, N.H. Two cubs were captured and taken to bear specialist Ben Kilham in Lyme, N.H. Traps containing berries, jelly doughnuts and other bait were being used to lure the remaining two cubs. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Hanover Deputy Fire Chief Michael Hinsley, left, and Bruce Plummer, a Dartmouth College facilities employee, put electric fence around a tree in Hanover, N.H., on June 29, 2018. Three bear cubs were treed there, and officials hoped to use baited traps to capture them and take them to bear specialist Ben Kilham in Lyme, N.H.(Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.



Valley News Staff Writer
Friday, June 29, 2018

Hanover — A team of state, local and federal officials on Friday captured and exiled a black bear sow that has taught at least two sets of cubs to forage for food in the backyards and dumpsters of downtown Hanover, not far from the Dartmouth College campus.

Two of her four current cubs also were captured and taken to the preserve of bear specialist Ben Kilham in Lyme, and officials were trying to round up the other two.

They had been using donuts and fruit as bait to get them down from a tree, and Hanover Deputy Fire Chief Michael Hinsley planned to check traps periodically through the evening.

Officials said they also will be taken to the preserve in Lyme, where Kilham helps rehabilitate orphaned cubs. One of the other cubs briefly was in a cage, but escaped into the woods just north of Mink Brook, a tributary to the Connecticut River about a 12-minute walk from the Dartmouth Green.

Meanwhile, the sow, nicknamed Mink, was captured on Friday morning and was being driven to northern Coos County, near the Canadian border, where she was to be released into the wild, still wearing a tracking collar.

“We will monitor her. It’s hard to predict what she will do, whether she stays, whether she returns to Hanover,” said Andy Timmins, the bear project leader for the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department, who was transporting Mink north.

“I don’t know the next step, if we have to deal with her again. ... Hopefully we don’t have to, but I’m not sure this is the end of the story.”

Two evenings earlier, Hinsley had found Mink in a dumpster with two of the cubs, an indication that the bear was teaching this set of cubs to look for human food sources.

Hanover Town Manager Julia Griffin, who was on hand for efforts to capture the cubs on Friday, said officials realized they were “fighting a losing battle” to keep this latest litter away from human food sources.

“As such, we agreed with N.H. (Fish and Game) that it was time to move Mink to a much more remote area and for Ben Kilham to work to rehabilitate the cubs before they become as dumpster and trash oriented as is their mom,” Griffin said via email.

Timmins said officials scrapped a plan from earlier this spring to move the family together out of fear that the cubs would not survive in a new setting in the wild, where other bears can be territorial and they might be vulnerable to other predators. Given Kilham’s track record, sending them to Lyme seemed like a safe course, Timmins said.

“We decided not to move the cubs with her. If something happens to her when she disperses back, then it’s guaranteed death for the cubs,” Timmins said. “We’ll release them as yearlings, and they will be fine.”

Two of the cubs could be heard squawking once they were in cages, and Timmins said the sow, which weighs about 200 pounds, big for a female black bear, is likely to be anxious about being separated from them.

“I suspect she’s going to be a little frantic wondering where her cubs are,” he said. “How much that affects her, and how much that affects her travel, we don’t know.”

At 9 p.m., Hinsley, the deputy fire chief, sat quietly and listened as the two stray cubs played together in ferns at the bottom of a bank in Hanover. They hadn’t made their way into the trap, so he stayed nearby, just in case.

“This is now about physically protecting the cubs,” Hinsley said via text message. “I am glad that they are not alone.”

Timmins and Hanover officials have been working for more than a year to get Hanover residents and landlords to secure trash, seal dumpsters, and take down bird feeders and other food sources that were drawing Mink and other bears.

Timmins said most people complied, but “one percent didn’t, and that one percent allowed her to be very active in town.” Mink and the cubs also found food for a time in West Lebanon.

He said the problem could again be compounded in Hanover as a new set of students and tenants “who haven’t gotten the message” moved into the college town.

“It’s very hard to get everyone on the same page,” he said. “We just ran out of options.”

Griffin applauded the officials who have worked on the bear problem, who also included Will Staat, a Fish and Game regional wildlife biologist, and Nancy Comeau, of the U.S. Department of Agriculture Wildlife Services, for their efforts “to help us try to figure out a way to retrain Mink and her cubs to quietly co-exist with all of us.”

New Hampshire Fish and Game officials in April temporarily had sedated and put the tracking collar on Mink in order to trace her movements around Hanover.

Last year, three of Mink’s yearling cubs from a previous litter were transported to northern New Hampshire after two of them broke into a home. One of the cubs later was shot in Quebec.

State wildlife officials at the time had recommended that the bears were too habituated to humans and should be put down, but, after a public outcry, Gov. Chris Sununu intervened and the cubs were transported out of town, while Mink remained.

Timmins said, in ordinary circumstances, he might have again recommended that Mink be destroyed, but that he was also fine with the current plan.

“I, more than anyone, hope this works. If she can go up here and integrate into the wild, then great, but if she can’t, then I think that’s what’s going to eventually happen,” Timmins said.

Chief Photographer Jennifer Hauck contributed to this report. John P. Gregg can be reached at jgregg@vnews.com.