N.H. Fish and Game wonders if the “Something’s Bruin” message is getting lost.
|Foolish? Yes it is. Photo courtesy NH Fish & Game Dept.|
Okay, show of hands, folks.
Raise your hand if you’ve never heard of N.H. Fish and Game’s advice to put the bird feeders away so you don’t attract hungry black bears.
Thought so. Pretty much everyone has heard the annual early spring message.
Then why do people continue to ignore the advice? Why do good, decent, smart folks continue to fill the feeders and then are shocked and surprised to wake up and see metal poles bent to the ground, feeders crunched or carried off and the remnants of a hungry black bear’s visit left behind?
The folks at the N.H. Fish and Game Department are wondering the same thing.
“Is the Public Even Listening?”
For decades, Fish and Game has spread the word through their “Something’s Bruin” public awareness campaign. It’s a pretty simple message, really. Come springtime, put the feeders away. Clean up the spilled seed. Secure your birdseed inside. Keep your garbage inside at night. Don’t leave anything outside that might attract a hungry bear that’s waking up after a long winter’s sleep.
A subtext of the message is “a fed bear is a dead bear.” When black bears become habituated to finding their food from bird feeders and other human sources, the experience informs and bears become bolder. What starts as raiding a feeder becomes raiding a neighborhood of feeders. Then the bear finds a trash can; then two. Then he enters an open garage. Then a screen porch.
What was once a majestic wild black bear becomes dependent on human food sources and develops into a nuisance that’s unafraid of people and ever more emboldened in its quest for food. Ultimately, the emboldened behavior and habits can end in the bear’s demise, either by being shot by an angry landowner or by Fish and Game.
The Something’s Bruin message has worked pretty well for years. But now, Fish and Game folks are wondering if the message is working.
A recent op ed piece by Andrew Timmins, N.H. Fish and Game’s bear project leader suggests that people are not getting the message. In his piece, “Bear and Human Conflicts – A Need for Change,” Timmins wonders, “Is the public even listening anymore? Is our society that self-centered and callous towards the wildlife of our state?”
Managing Bears = Managing People
As bear project leader, you’d think Timmins’ job is all about managing New Hampshire’s black bears. But honestly, it’s often about managing people’s behavior that affects black bears.
As such, Timmins is on the front lines of bear/human conflicts. And too often he’s put in the position of putting down good, decent, smart black bears that have learned bad behaviors.
Timmins has had to shoot more than his fair share of bears that have become habituated simply because people have not heeded the message that Fish and Game has spread since the mid-1990s: Don’t feed the bears. Inadvertently or intentionally.
Intentional Feeding & Bird Feeders
|Don't let this happen to you. If you care about the |
black bears, put away the feeders.
Photo courtesy NH Fish & Game Dept.
At one end of the spectrum are people who are intentionally feeding bears. Hard to believe people would be so stupid, but unfortunately, a small number of people actually feed bears. Since 2006, Fish and Game rules prohibit this activity and Department officials will first warn the perpetrators, followed by a summons, if necessary.
In his op ed, Timmins mentions one repeat offender in North Conway who has been intentionally feeding bears for years, despite warnings. Bears in this neighborhood have been breaking into motor vehicles, garages, sheds and killing livestock. Fish and Game has had to kill two bears here in one week.
In southwestern New Hampshire, Timmins told me, one resident in Stoddard has also been repeatedly warned to stop feeding bears.
At the other end of the scale are people who continue feeding birds, despite repeated visits by black bears and years of advice by Fish and Game to stop bird-feeding in the spring.
A Reasonable Resolution?
And when a bear comes along to raid a feeder, sometimes the errant homeowner is readily transformed into “wildlife photographer,” proudly posting his or her bear photos on Facebook.
“The next time you are reviewing a friend's photos of a sow with cute cubs lying next to a pile of feed in their back yard, think about the consequences for the bear and her cubs, who are learning behaviors that may result in their future death,” Timmins writes in his op ed. “When you see a dumpster with muddy paw prints on the side and garbage strewn through the woods, think long and hard about that image. Is that how you picture New Hampshire's majestic black bear? The next time you hear about Fish and Game biologist climbing to the top of a tree to remove cubs because the sow was shot at an unsecured chicken pen, ask yourself if that was a reasonable resolution to a conflict.”
As much as you love the birds, they’ll do just fine without the bird seed. You can always see and hear the birds in the neighborhood. Put the feeders back up in winter when the bears are asleep.
‘Til then, do your part and help keep our black bears wild.
Eric Aldrich writes from his home in Hancock.
Eric Aldrich writes from his home in Hancock.