Residents of Merrimack, N.H., be warned: You have some new neighbors in town, and they might not be as friendly as they look.
At least seven black bears have been spotted in the northwestern section of Merrimack in the past two weeks, and authorities have received 15 bear-related calls in the past three days, said Merrimack Police Lieutenant Denise Roy. The unruly bruins have been ripping through garbage, snatching bird feeders, and even venturing close to the middle school.
Connie Westerhof of Merrimack said she was sipping her morning cup of coffee two weeks ago, when she noticed a black bear eyeing the bird feeder in her backyard. She quickly grabbed her camera, snapping a few photos from the safety of her home.
Then she decided to sneak a bit closer.
“She was so calm and just sitting there,” Westerhof said.
So Westerhof quietly crept onto the porch and took a few more photographs.
When Westerhof’s husband came home for lunch, he was eager to shoot some video. He approached within 15 feet of the bear, filming.
That’s when then things got ugly.
“All of a sudden she lunged,” Westerhof said. “It startled both of us. Then she did it again.”
Though Westerhof said she and her husband were left unharmed, the couple, a bit shaken up, decided to call animal control. When officials responded to the scene, the bear shot up a pine tree, where two cubs were resting.
The approximately 400-pound bear climbed about 150 feet in less than 10 seconds, Westerhof estimated.
“I couldn’t believe how fast she could climb,” she said.
The bears eventually fled into the woods.
Elizabeth Fraser, an animal control officer in Merrimack, said this number of bear sightings is actually normal for Merrimack. Bears are finished with their hibernation, she said, but their main food sources, such as berries and certain nuts, are not yet in season.
A few days ago, a bear came close to Mastricola Middle School, Fraser said. School officials were instructed to keep the students inside for the day.
For now, police are trying to take precautionary steps. They distributed door tags asking residents to bring bird feeders inside, and are asking people to call if they see a bear. The New Hampshire Fish and Game Department has been notified, Fraser said, and will respond if necessary.
“We are monitoring the situation,” Fraser said. “And if it gets worse, then they will intervene with us.”
As for Westerhof, she still has mixed feelings about the bears.
“I’m sure if I put the feed out right now, she’d be back,” Westerhof said. “You’re kind of tempted to do that because she’s so pretty. But if she got into the habit of staying here, no, I wouldn’t like it.”
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