GRAFTON, N.H. — New Hampshire expects a banner year for bear complaints.
Hungry bruins awakened by an early spring are moving into backyards to forage because summer vegetation and berries have not yet come on.
The New Hampshire Fish and Game Department expects to get more than twice as many complaints of bear activity this year than last because of the atypical spring weather and temporary food shortage.
Already, a woman in Grafton reported being attacked by a bear as she opened her door to let her dog out. She went to the hospital with cuts on her arms. Her dog was not hurt.
In June, wildlife officers tranquilized a wayward bear that was found wandering the streets of Manchester and moved it to the White Mountain National Forest.
Bears also have crossed paths with people in Vermont, Massachusetts and Maine. A bear in Massachusetts became a celebrity after it swam to Cape Cod, was tranquilized and taken to the woods, then showed up again in a Boston suburb.
The number of bear complaints has almost doubled in Maine compared to complaints during the same period last year, state officials say. And bear complaints in Vermont also are more abundant this year than usual.
Vermont bear biologist Forrest Hammond said the bears are looking for food at a time of year when succulent early season food has disappeared and the berries the animals feed on haven’t ripened yet.
“The majority of them are bird feeder incidents,” Hammond said. “Taking down the bird feeders is still the biggest thing we can do (to avoid problems).”
The increase in Vermont coincides with a growing bear population, which has doubled in the last 20 years, he said.
New Hampshire Fish and Game bear biologist Andrew Timmins said bears generally do not pose a danger to humans.
“All they’re trying to do is fill their stomachs,” he said. “They’re not coming into yards to be aggressive or chase people around. Bears that are allowed to enter a yard and receive a food reward will try that time and time again.”
Last year, New Hampshire Fish and Game received fewer than 500 calls reporting bear sightings. Timmins predicts that number will hit more than 1,000 this year.
Timmins expects the number of bear complaints to drop once crops of berries start coming in, later in the summer and during the fall. Until then, a lack of good quality vegetation means hungry bears are seeking other food sources.
“They’re just a month ahead of schedule right now,” Timmins said.
When nature’s food supply is low, backyard items such as birdfeeders and unsealed garbage cans offer bears the best nourishment.
Bedford resident Caroline Verow said a small bear has gone into her yard a few times, starting one night last winter.
“He was on his back and shaking our huge bird feeder, like a baby, just shaking it into his mouth,” she said. “He was having a ball out there. He stayed for about a half hour, until the feeder was empty.”
Verow said she then took down the feeder. Fish and Game officials hope to see more New Hampshire residents do the same to avoid similar bear encounters.
When a bear needs to be removed from a residential neighborhood, it is brought to the woods in northern New Hampshire. But Timmins said this step isn’t ideal because bears can travel back to their homes in about a week.
Although Fish and Game workers can trap or relocate bears, they prefer that homeowners learn to avoid luring the animals. They advise removing birdfeeders, keeping trash containers securely closed and installing electric fences around chicken coops.
“Our first line of defense is really education,” Timmins said. “Our desire’s not to be relocating bears. Our desire is to get people to be changing their lifestyle.”