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Bears: Frequently Asked Questions


Are black bears dangerous?
Yes. Black bears are capable of killing people, but it is an extremely rare occurrence. The last time someone was killed by a black bear in New Hampshire was 1784. Black bears, like all wild animals, should be treated as unpredictable animals. Campground or "panhandler" bears may nip or cuff people that tease with food or crowd around them. In the woods, black bears usually retreat before people are aware of them; normal trail noise should alert bears to your presence.
What should I do if I encounter a bear?
If you see a bear, keep your distance. Make it aware of your presence by clapping, talking, singing or making other sounds. If you get too close to a bear, it may slap the ground, huff, blow and chomp its teeth or rush you (this is referred to as "bluff charge") in an attempt to get you to move a more comfortable distance away. If this occurs, maintain eye contact with the bear, speak in a soft, calm voice and slowly back away from the bear. These actions will help appease the bear and show that you are not weak, but, at the same time, not a threat to the bear. Do not run, avert your eyes or turn your back to the bear. The bear may perceive weakness and enforce dominance. The bear's bluff charge and chomping of teeth are a defense mechanism to establish the bear's dominance in an encounter with humans or a more dominant animal in the wild. Bears can outrun, out-swim and out-climb you. If you are attacked by a black bear, you should fight back rather than "play dead."
When do bears den? When will they come out in the spring?
For northern black bears, denning is an adaptation for escaping winter food scarcity and severe winter weather. Bears are not true hibernators, as they may be easily aroused from this state if disturbed. While bears are in winter dens, body temperature drops 7-8 degrees C, metabolism is reduced approximately 50%, heart rate decreases from 40-50 beats/minute to 8-19 beats/minute, and body weight decreases approximately 25%. Dens may be burrows, caves, hollow trees, wind-thrown trees, slash piles or leaf nests on the ground. Annual food abundance; the amount of stored body fat; the sex and age of the animal; and weather conditions influence the timing and duration of denning. In New Hampshire, bears typically enter dens between mid-October and late November and emerge from dens during late March or early April. During periods of winter thaws, male bears may occasionally get up and move around until cold weather returns.
What kind of bears live in New Hampshire?
The black bear is the only bear species in New Hampshire. Population estimates range between 4,800 to 5,000 bears statewide. Regional bear densities across the state range between 0.1-1.0 bears/square mile and average 0.5 bears/square mile.
When are bear cubs born?
Cubs are born in winter dens during January after a gestation period of about 8 months. Newborn cubs are born hairless, with eyes closed, measuring 6-8 inches in length, and weigh less than 1 pound. Cubs stay with their mother for approximately 18 months and den with her again during the following winter. When they are a year and a half old, cubs leave their mothers prior to the June/July mating season.
What should I do if I find myself around a mother bear with cubs?
Mother bears are rarely aggressive toward humans, but they are protective of their cubs. A mother bear will usually give many warning signs (huffing or popping sounds, swatting the ground or even bluff charges) to let you know that you are too close. Move away as described above.
How do I protect livestock/poultry from bear predation?
Husbandry practices such as night penning poultry, and manipulation of feed to avoid grain spillage or bear access to stored food, are important tools in keeping livestock safe from bears and other predators. Bears that become opportunistic predators can often be controlled by the use of electric fencing. One strategy is to attach an electric fence conductor with insulators to buildings or existing livestock pens, then bait the wires with food; this will adversely condition bears, causing them to avoid areas protected by electric fence. For more information on predator fence configurations, call the USDA Wildlife Service toll free number at 1-888-749-2327 (1-888-SHY-BEAR).
Will a bear attack my dog?
Bears will not intentionally attack dogs, but they can sometimes be startled or surprised by a dog if they are sneaking around a house looking for birdfeeders or following the smell of pet food. Bear will often run and tree when disturbed by dogs, but a parting swat can't be ruled out in close quarters. An exception to this would be a large male bear or sow with cubs, which may attempt to fight rather than run away if cornered. Keep your dog on a leash when walking your dog in areas of known bear activity. A mother bear may chase an unleashed dog in the protection of her cubs. The dog will probably run back to you for protection.
Is it legal to feed bears?
People should not feed bears or accommodate their feeding through improper food or garbage storage. Experience in New Hampshire indicates that doing so can enhance the likelihood of property damage, bear/human conflicts, or possibly result in bear behavior that leads to their removal. Purposeful or inadvertant feeding that creates the likelihood of human injury or property damage can result in your being issued a fine, if the attractant is not removed following a request to do so from a Conservation Officer.
When and how can I safely feed birds when bears are around?
Finish your bird feeding activities by April 1 each year. Don't begin feeding the birds again prior to December 1 or the onset of prolonged winter weather (the birds will do just fine). Bears are clever. This, coupled with their strength and agility, make it very difficult to establish bear-proof bird feeders. Purposeful feeding can result in bears getting accustomed to humans. This "habituation" of bears may cause a variety of conflicts with humans. The end result may be the removal (most often with lethal consequences) of the offending bear. Encourage your bird-feeding friends and neighbors to adhere to these guidelines. Be reminded that many people have an irrational fear of bears. A black bear's presence in a residential area may create fear among neighbors and lead to negative consequences for the bear. Regardless of the dates specified above, if a bear is active in your community, you should cease and desist all bird feeding activity. Bears that have access to winter feeders will sometimes remain active, visiting the feeder late into December, and periodically, beyond.
How can I protect a beehive from bear attacks?
Modern beehives are viewed by bears as very manageable "bee trees" and are hard for bears to pass up. Electric fencing -- using a "net fence" or configured with 4 strands of fence conductor spaced at 10 inches apart, and located at least 3 feet away from the hive -- can be very effective. Bears are very sensitive to electric current, particularly if it's a wet nose or tongue touching an electric fence while the bear is standing on wet grass. In addition to fencing, avoid placing hives near areas of known bear activity or areas where bears feel secure while foraging. Place items such as beehives in areas where bears must risk decreased security while investigating the attractant. This means avoiding areas near streams and wetlands, power lines or wooded areas. Strapping or stapling the hive supers together can minimize damage to the honeybees' brood nest in cool or wet weather if the hive is knocked over. It also allows the colony to better defend itself. For more information on electric fence configurations, call the USDA Wildlife Service toll free number at 1-888-749-2327 (1-888-SHY-BEAR).
How can I keep bears out of my garbage? How do I get a bear-proof dumpster?
Keep dumpster and trash containers secured at all times. Trash cans should not be placed on the curb until the day of pickup. Until then, all garbage containers should be secured in a well-constructed shed, garage or basement. Double-bag smelly garbage and regularly clean trash cans with a deodorizer like ammonia to reduce food odors that attract bears. Additionally, consider using ammonia as a cover scent for garbage odor by pouring and leaving a small amount of ammonia in the trash can or by placing ammonia-soaked rags in the garbage can. If bears are able to get into a shed used for storing garbage, find a more secure location, remove all attractants and spilled garbage, deodorize, then leave shed doors open to prevent property damage. The bear will leave unrewarded and eventually learn that the easy food source is gone. Bear-proof dumpsters can often be obtained from your local dumpster provider if you are persistent. The most common designs are metal tops that can be secured with chain hooks, or side-access panels that can be closed securely. Plywood covers and the means to stabilize smaller dumpsters are also worth considering.
How do I prevent bears from bothering my campsite?
Always keep a clean camp. Don't leave any food, including condiments, out when not in use. Hang food at least 10 feet high (and at least 4 feet from top and side supports), or store it in bear-resistant units, hard-shelled vehicles or car trunks. Never eat in your tent. Keep your sleeping area, tent and sleeping bag free of food and odors. Never bury or burn food waste. In backcountry areas, your sleeping area should be 100 yards from food storage and cooking areas. If a bear comes into your camp, yell, bang pots and pans and try to scare it away. Bears chase off easier before they obtain food.
What good are bears?

Throughout history, humans have always been interested in black bears. They occupy many places in our culture -- from Native American ceremonies to Teddy bears. Bears have a very positive impact on our environment. Because bears need a variety of habitats to thrive, managing habitat for bears benefits many other species. As a result, bears are a good indicator species of healthy wildlife habitat. If a habitat supports bears, it will support many other creatures.


The bears themselves affect the ecosystem in a multitude of ways. As predators, they help control deer and moose populations; as scavengers they help clean up carcasses; in their search for insects, they act as nutrient recyclers; and by eating a variety of fruits, they help distribute and sow fruiting trees and shrubs which are used by other animals.


Bears also hold some secrets that are worthy of study -- such as the ability of denning pregnant female bears to shut down their digestive and excretory systems and still deliver and nurse as many as 5 cubs. Bears also have significant economic value in many parts of the country; hunters, photographers and wildlife enthusiasts all spend significant sums of money in order to hunt or view bears. Hunters utilize harvested bears as a highly prized source of food. Bears enrich our lives in many ways and provide many useful functions. Perhaps the most important function is the knowledge that if you live in an area that can support a healthy bear population, that area is also healthy enough to support you.