Bruin mating Season is a bear of a time
In June, the forest echoes with bird songs and the whine of a million mosquitoes. Insect protein abounds. Plants flower and begin to set fruit. Birds are nesting, laying eggs and raising young. Turtles are nesting, laying leathery eggs in sandy soil in sunny locales. Young of the year everywhere are growing, venturing further afield and fledging learning travel routes between preferred feeding and resting areas.
Each June, there’s a spike in the number of concerned local residents reporting roaming juvenile bears. The increased number of backyard bear photos and videos posted last week on WMUR-TV’s online “U-Local” feature prompted some folks to wonder if bear populations are increasing. The home videos montage included one astonished Manchester child exclaiming “Amazing! It’s a real live bear!” In another, a child innocently suggests “He looks like a nice bear.” To which mom brusquely replied “Yeah but we’re not going outside.”
In June, it’s mating season for bears.
During their every-other-year breeding season, female “sows” enter estrus after leaving their adolescent yearling cubs. Twin cubs are typical. Bear cubs born in dens in the winter of 2008 spent last summer with their mothers and denned again together this past winter. In their second spring, sows leave adolescent cubs to fend for themselves in preparation for breeding again. Breeding sows this year last mated in June 2007. Male “boars” breed every year - if they can.
Now adolescents, particularly young males must disperse to establish new territories while avoiding conflict with older dominant males who are busy defending territory and seeking mates. Older boars are tolerant of yearling sows who one day might become part of the regional harem.
The home range for a boar can be 50 square miles in good quality habitat to100 square miles in poor habitat. Sows typically occupy a home range of five to 20 square miles. Thus, the home range of one boar may potentially overlap that occupied by five or many more sows.
Adolescent yearlings, mothers with first-year cubs, breeding males and now cub-less females are travelling, feeding, breeding, defending and maintain territories and escaping threats posed by older, larger bears.
According to NH Fish and Game Bear Biologist, Andrew Timmins, there were nearly 4,800 black bears in NH at the end of 2007. Good quality forested habitat in the Lakes Region and Monadnock region could support higher bear numbers but growing reports of nuisance bears in once-rural areas suggests human tolerance for backyard bears may be limited. In the Seacoast, bear densities are low and kept that way by more people and marginal habitat. Bear densities in the North Country are estimated at one bear for every two square miles which is considered ideal for available habitat quality and the bears’ social carrying capacity. In the White Mountains, bear population densities are higher creating stress, particularly during the breeding season.
Young boars are always interlopers in pre-occupied territory. They must travel warily to avoid conflict. Often the adolescents leave the woods, cross roads and traverse suburban neighborhoods where they circle houses, rile barking dogs and climb backyard trees to reach birdfeeders and decks to reach garbage cans, pet food bowls and barbecue grills. People inadvertently attract bears to unnatural food supplies. Others intentionally feed bears. Sows with first year cubs teach their offspring bad habits to which adolescents return in subsequent years.
Human - bear conflicts and nuisance bear complaints increase in more suburban areas as a result of homeowners inadvertently attracting bears. To manage bears, wildlife officials have to educate people so bears don’t habituate themselves to food and learn bad habits. The NH Fish and Game Department’s popular “Something’s Bruin” campaign reminds homeowners that “a fed bear is a dead bear.”
If you see a bear, consider yourself fortunate. Then give it some space.
Fish and Game Wildlife Programs Administrator, Mark Ellingwood reminds residents that wild animals have the best chance of surviving when they are on their own in their natural environment. “The best way to keep wildlife wild is to give (them) plenty of space and leave them alone." Crowds of people frighten bears up neighborhood trees. Typically, bears climb down and return to the forest after people leave. Binoculars are still the safest and most responsible way to enjoy New Hampshire bears from a safe distance.
Naturalist Dave Anderson is director of education for the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests. His column appears every other week in the New Hampshire Sunday News. He may be reached at email@example.com or through the Forest Society's Web site: forestsociety.org.