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N.H. town warns of bear sightings

Some spied in backyards

Several bears, including this one, have been spotted in Merrimack, N.H., recently. Police say bird feeders should be brought in. Several bears, including this one, have been spotted in Merrimack, N.H., recently. Police say bird feeders should be brought in. (Dan Michaud)
By Katherine Landergan
Globe Correspondent / May 11, 2011

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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 at least 15 bear-related calls since the weekend, said police Lieutenant Denise Roy. The bears have been ripping through garbage, snatching bird feeders, and even venturing close to a school.

Connie Westerhof said she was sipping her morning coffee two weeks ago when she noticed a black bear eyeing the bird feeder in her backyard. She grabbed her camera and snapped a few photos from her home.

Then she decided to sneak a bit closer.

“She was so calm and just sitting there,’’ Westerhof said.

So Westerhof crept onto the porch and took a few more photographs.

When Westerhof’s husband came home for lunch, he was eager to shoot video. He approached within 15 feet of the bear. 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 unharmed, the couple, a bit shaken up, decided to call animal control. When officials responded, 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.’’

The bears eventually fled into the woods.

Elizabeth Fraser, an animal control officer in Merrimack, said this number of bear sightings is normal for the town. 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 Upper Elementary School, Fraser said. School officials were instructed to keep the students inside for the day.

For now, police are taking precautions. 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.

As for Westerhof, she 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.’’

Katherine Landergan can be reached at klandergan@globe.com.