Sunday night, while sitting around the fire in conversation, a large wild creature moved through the woods, announcing its presence with the crunch of dried leaves and crack of fallen twigs. Not a deer. Not a raccoon or a skunk. Definitely not a squirrel. I quietly walked into the house for the big flashlight and walked out to the edge of the fence and switched it on. Nothing but leaves glowed back at me, but the crunching and cracking continued on and away from us. The speculation on what had visited stayed with us. But we knew.
The next day someone up the hill posted that three goats had been killed in her yard, and there was talk of a bear up to 800 pounds being the culprit. Was this our visitor? We wondered at the possibility. I walked deep into the woods in daylight looking for tracks, but quickly realized the folly of my search. I’d guess we had a solid layer of leaves blanketing any possible evidence of bear tracks. I contemplated purchasing a wildlife camera set in the woods to track future visitors. It would be good to know the neighbors a bit better. We’ve seen just about everything in our time at the edge of the woods, but haven’t yet seen a bear. But others in town have. This would be our closest encounter.
Bear encounters have increased in New Hampshire over the years, and there have been three bear attacks over the last decade, including one this year when a man was attacked from behind while getting an air conditioner out of his car. There are reasons for this. First, the bear population has grown significantly over the years as they outpace efforts to cull them through hunting. Second, some people actively feed bears, making them less fearful of humans. And then we have the drought that New Hampshire is currently in, which forces the bears to wander further into populated areas for food. There’s a fascinating article about the increase in bear encounters in the September issue of NH Magazine.
Bear populations, like squirrels, apparently increased with the bumper crop of acorns a couple of years ago. Well-fed bears want to stay well-fed. And so they come. I can’t help but compare the increase in bear encounters to the increase in Great White Shark encounters on the beaches of New England. Limit hunting seals and sharks and the population explodes in places we’d gotten used to having the beaches to ourselves. Something similar is happening with bear populations (and every other wild animal for that matter). Fewer hunters, more comfort with humans and drought-fueled hunger means more bears in the suburbs.
Standing in the woods, looking back towards the house, you get the perspective of the wild things. As much as you could I suppose, given my free access to the comforts of a home just on the other side of the border. I considered my desire to get out in the wild so often, and here I was, standing in bear country, 200 feet from my back door. I looked around one last time for tracks and walked back to the other side, closing the gate behind me. But I’ll be back. I suspect the bear(s) will be too.