It’s been a week of high-stakes ups-and-downs for four bears living in the Hanover area. A home break-in, traps set, and in the end, a last-minute reprieve by the governor.
One morning early last week, Sarah Lindberg was working at Jesse’s Restaurant in Hanover and a woman came running in from the back parking lot where the dumpsters are kept.
“She was like, ‘You have bears!” Lindberg said. And they both went out back to go have a look.
It was a female bear and three cubs. “They were in and out of the dumpsters -- didn’t seem scared of us at all,” Lindberg said. “So cute!”
It’s not unusual to see bears around Hanover at this time of year, but this family stands out. People have been seeing them all over, on the prowl for food, and they don’t scare easily.
“This particular sow and her three yearlings are the boldest bears we’ve ever had in town,” said Hanover Town Manager Julia Griffin.
Things took a turn for the worse last weekend when two of the bears actually found their way into a house. At that point, they crossed a line for state officials.
“We have an established protocol that compels us to kill bears if they enter a home,” said Mark Ellingwood. He's Wildlife Division Chief for the N.H. Fish and Game Department.
So, Fish and Game officials set traps and planned to shoot the bears once they had them in hand. But things escalated once that plan became public.
“Hanover Bears to ‘Be Destroyed’” was the front-page headline of the local paper Wednesday, above the fold. An Upper Valley resident started an online petition to save the animals. As of this morning, it had nearly 10,000 signatures.
Callers flooded the state Fish and Game Department and the phone of well-known Lyme-based bear biologist Ben Kilham. The calls were coming from all over the country, even as far away as Vancouver, according to Kilham.
“It’s not the bears' fault - it’s people!” Kilham said. He says the primary issue is bird feeders that residents leave out stocked with food. Plus, any unsecured garbage will attract the animals.
“The bears in Hanover are well-known and well-received by many of the people in Hanover,” Kilham said. “And it’s the same people who have loved them to death, if you excuse the expression.”
So, traps were set and the bears’ fate seemed sealed. Around town, though, people had a hard time believing there wasn’t another option.
Opinions ranged from sad to confused. Some residents rebelled.
On Thursday, Sarah Lindberg, General Manager at Jesse’s Restaurant, said she knew the animals had been over by a dentist’s office down the street that morning. She said she was not reporting the animals’ whereabouts because she didn’t want them to be killed.
But then, on Thursday afternoon, Governor Chris Sununu entered the fray.
“Don’t worry, we aren’t going to kill the bears,” he said at an event in Portsmouth, according to the Union Leader. He said he was speaking with Fish and Game officials about alternatives.
As of today, the state now plans to trap and relocate the bears to another area.
Wildlife officials avoided this approach earlier this week because they said it often fails. Once the animals have learned to be comfortable, even aggressive, around humans and houses, it’s likely they’ll continue this behavior.