Mink the bear is out of hibernation in Hanover and Lebanon, now with 3 new cubs

  • Photographed on April 7, 2020, Mink, a black bear spared by Gov. Chris Sununu in 2017 and relocated in 2018 to northern New Hampshire, has returned with three new cubs to West Lebanon, N.H., near the Mink Brook, about a mile from downtown Hanover. (Bryan Marquard photograph) Bryan Marquard photograph

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 4/25/2020 10:14:47 PM
Modified: 4/27/2020 8:53:39 PM

WEST LEBANON — It wasn’t long after Bryan Marquard and his wife, Jill, moved into their home just south of Mink Brook that they began to catch glimpses of a bear cutting across the lawn.

Marquard, the obituaries editor at the Boston Globe, moved into a West Lebanon neighborhood near Sachem Village, about a mile south of downtown Hanover, in the fall of 2009. By the next spring, the black bear sow now known as Mink was out and about, foraging in nearby woods and at backyard bird feeders.

“Like all residents in the area, we were taken aback the first time we saw a black bear walk through the yard,” he said in a phone interview Thursday.

Over the past decade, Marquard has made a hobby of photographing Mink and her cubs. He estimates he’s spotted Mink at least 200 times and with at least four different litters, each year emerging from hibernation in March or April.

This year is no different. Marquard earlier this month captured photos of Mink and three new cubs near the tree line by his house.

“I looked out that morning after I woke up and I sort of saw this big black lump,” he said of seeing them again the next day.

Mink made national news in 2017 after town officials became worried that her cubs at the time were becoming too habituated to getting food from human sources — two of the yearlings even went into a house in Hanover. Mink was slated to be destroyed until Gov. Chris Sununu intervened after a public outcry.

The following year, a subsequent litter of cubs was captured and taken to a bear preserve in Lyme, and Mink was transported to northern New Hampshire but eventually traveled back to her home range in Lebanon and Hanover as wildlife officials followed her movements through a tracking collar.

Her reappearance this spring is her first return with a new litter of cubs, and an indication that the pattern of wandering Hanover and Route 10 neighborhoods for food, be it from bird feeders or loosely secured trash cans, will recur with new trainees in tow.

“She started to get active in mid- to late-March, making just short forays from her den site,” said Andrew Timmins, the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department’s bear project leader, in an interview last week.

All bears, including Mink, are relying on leftover acorns and whatever they can scavenge until warmer spring temperatures bring the green vegetation they rely on. Around June, berries are introduced into their diet, starting with the strawberry crop.

“What we need to happen is we need a normal year with decent rainfall,” Timmins said, adding that drought conditions could hamper the growth of native fruits and vegetation.

Timmins and Sununu visited Mink this winter to find she had given birth to three male cubs.

The cubs each weigh about 8 pounds and aren’t yet old enough to go out foraging with their mother, Timmins said. Mink instead picks a tree for them to climb while she’s away.

That will change in the summer, when the cubs will be with Mink all the time, he said.

Lyme naturalist Ben Kilham said that the four cubs he cared for from Mink’s prior litter were among 82 cubs he released into the wild the next spring. He doesn’t believe any have been injured or killed by hunters since. (One of the yearlings who were captured and transported to Pittsburg, N.H., in May 2017 was shot and killed by a hunter in Quebec 18 days later.)

Kilham’s preserve takes in cubs that have been abandoned, predominantly by first-time mothers who run out of milk, and he’s gotten 11 already this year. However, he expects this to be a good year for bears. There’s an abundance of acorns available compared with last year, he said.

As for Mink, she hasn’t yet proved a problem, Kilham said. While she did visit some homes and bird feeders early in the spring, he said, officials were quick to alert neighbors.

“It’s all about food. If people have food attractants, they’re going to have bears,” he said.

Timmins reiterated that sentiment, saying people should take down bird feeders by April 1, secure garbage and protect livestock with an electric fence.

“If people leave attractants out, she’s going to remind them she’s around,” he said. “But people have been increasingly better about getting their attractants in.”

For his part, Marquard, who previously worked for the Valley News, doesn’t own a bird feeder and secures garbage inside his garage. He sees it as a responsibility to keep both the neighborhood and Mink safe.

“We’re all going to be safe if we’re good neighbors,” he said.

Tim Camerato can be reached at tcamerato@vnews.com or 603-727-3223.

Valley News

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