The bears are back in town

by Anthony Robles | 4/19/18 2:30am

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Source: Courtesy of George Morris

Hanover’s most controversial animal resident is back in town. The black bear first spotted in the fall of 2016 has returned — this time with four new cubs in tow.

Their return marks the latest episode in a saga that attracted national attention last May. After two of the sow’s yearlings set foot in a local home, New Hampshire Fish and Game officials planned to capture and euthanize the sow and her three yearlings. However, following public outcry over the bears’ intended fates, Gov. Chris Sununu ordered the bears be relocated to northern New Hampshire.

Despite the order, only the sow’s three yearlings — which had been “kicked out” by their mother in preparation for breeding season — were relocated to Pittsburg, New Hampshire, a town bordering Quebec, according to Fish and Game wildlife biologist and bear project leader Andrew Timmins. Now, after a summer of breeding and a winter delivery, the sow is back and has been spotted in backyards, rummaging through trash cans.

The sow is currently being tracked with a radio collar, which will aid in pinpointing areas of the town that might need “additional education” when it comes to removing food attractants, Timmins said.

Although the collar has only been on for a few days, Timmins said the team is already seeing consistency in the sow’s locations.

“It’s gonna tell us how much she’s using natural foods versus human-related foods,” he said. “Although a lot of people may have removed food attractants, not everybody has, and it’s why these issues still continue.”

According to Timmins, the sow primarily feeds on birdseed, as evidenced by the composition of her scat. Due to this, Hanover town officials recommend that residents remove all birdfeeders by Apr. 1.

However, off-campus student rentals and their garbage remain as potential trouble spots, Hanover town manager Julia Griffin said. This is because because students are not aware of how their trash and recyclables should be managed, she said, adding that landlords do not always provide students with either acceptable storage containers or spaces like garages to hold trash.

“It’s not unusual for students to leave their trash outside 24/7, and those are just gold mines for hungry sows and cubs,” Griffin said. “We have a lot of student rentals in the neighborhoods [that the sow] frequents. The places where we most often see trash strewn everywhere . . . and recycle bins dumped over and emptied have been places where students are renting.”

According to Griffin, the town of Hanover sent out a Code Red message on Apr. 9 alerting residents in the neighborhoods in which the sow has been spotted. Code Red is a telephone notification system used by the town to alert residents about emergencies or specific situations, such as the reemergence of the sow.

Griffin added that on Apr. 13, the town asked the College’s administration to send out this same message to the Dartmouth community, with a focus on students living off-campus. The message was sent through VOX Daily on Monday morning, stressing that bird feeders should no longer be left outside and that trash and recycling bins should be taken outside only on the day — not night before — of pick-ups. The message also emphasized that barbecue grills should be brought inside after they have been cooled.

Any households that do not comply with these regulations could be a subject to a fine exceeding $500.

“It needs to be 100 percent,” Timmins said. “You can have 50 percent or 70 percent of the attractants removed, but whatever’s left is still going to provide her with enough resources to keep her in the area, so it’s gotta be all or nothing.”

After the family’s den was discovered this year by Hinsley and game cameras, Griffin said New Hampshire Fish and Game were immediately contacted to develop a plan to “ultimately relocate the family.”

The operation on Apr. 13 to fit the sow with the collar was conducted by nuisance black bear specialist at U.S. Department of Agriculture Wildlife Services Nancy Comeau, deputy fire chief Michael Hinsley, local bear expert Ben Kilham, Fish and Game wildlife biologist Will Staats and Timmins.

While the sow’s cubs were asleep in a babysitter tree — a tree typically occupied by cubs while their mother searches for sources of food — the sow was hit with a tranquilizing dart and then fitted with the collar.

Griffin said that as part of their routine inspections, Hinsley, who also serves as the town’s health officer, and Hanover deputy health officer Ryan Borkowski have been routinely taking trips down neighborhood streets in which the sow was previously spotted to inform citizens about bird feeders and trash or recycling bins that have been left out. Although some properties have received multiple visits, she said that town citizens have generally become well-educated on eliminating food attractants.

The sow is currently teaching her cubs how to climb trees and is not an aggressive bear, Griffin said. However, she did advise that anyone walking a dog in the Mink Brook corridor should make sure that their dog is on a leash.

While efforts to minimize attractants and educate Hanover residents are in place, the sow has already found her bearings in the garbage of at least one off-campus house.

The College’s director of research computing, George Morris, who lives in the Currier Place neighborhood, said he spotted the sow on Apr. 15 at around 1 p.m. when the bear first approached his home’s patio looking for food around the grill.

Eventually, the sow moved toward the side of the house and helped herself to “two or three of the garbage bags” in the garbage containers, Morris said.

“Initially, I thought it was a very large dog,” Morris said. “It had a collar, and upon a closer look at the very large dog, it became apparent it was a bear. The bear literally walked right up to the entrance to my study. I was literally six to eight feet away.”

All this, however, did not prevent Morris from taking multiple pictures of the sow as she roamed around.

Griffin said the sow had primarily been spotted in the Storrs Road neighborhood, which borders the Angelo Tanzi Tract of the Mink Brook Preserve, and is located across from the Hanover Co-op food store. According to Griffin, the entire Preserve has long been bear habitat. She added that as the cubs become larger and more mobile, the sleuth of bears will likely begin to not only venture further west towards the Maple Street neighborhoods and across the brook to the Dayton Drive and Wyeth Road neighborhoods, but into garages and backyards as well.

Sarah Miller ’19 texted her housemate Michael Sun ’19 on Monday night that she thought a bear had raided their trash containers, Sun wrote in an email. Miller and Sun had not yet had a chance to move their trash bins. Although Sun hardly believed Miller at first, when he arrived at the house on Valley Road Extension he found that the trash and recycling bins had been “largely emptied” and that trash bags had been ripped open, with their contents strewn almost 30 feet behind the house. The surrounding snow was stamped with paw prints of various sizes.

Timmins said that he expects the sleuth of bears to be relocated to the northern third of the state. However, he said that it was simply too early in the year to move the bears because there is a lack of food resources and deep snow cover in that area.

Furthermore, Timmins added that Fish and Game officials have not yet decided whether to keep the sow’s radio collar on once the time comes to move her. He also stated that they have not decided on whether to release the sleuth of bears in the same area in which the yearlings were released or in an alternative area.

“I’m hoping she can stay down [in the area] for at least a month, maybe two months, because it’s going to be that long before the northern part of the state is even close to what you’d call spring conditions,” Timmins said. “If we end up having to move her earlier than that, then that may play into the decision of where she goes. Perhaps we won’t take her as far north.”

Last year, one of the three yearlings was lawfully shot and killed by a hunter on June 16 in Stornoway, Quebec during one of its legal bear hunting seasons. The fate of the other two yearlings is still unknown, Timmins said.

Compared to her yearlings, whose return to Hanover after being relocated was deemed unlikely, Timmins said that she is the animal with the highest likelihood of returning to the area. Speaking from experience, he said that older adult bears “are the ones most likely to return after being dropped off into an unknown location.”

However, until the sow is removed, Hanover residents will just have to grin and bear it.