CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — A bear whose life was spared two years ago by New Hampshire's governor has returned to her home turf near Dartmouth College after traveling thousands of miles since her relocation last June.
The state's Fish and Game Department had decided to euthanize the female black bear and three of her young offspring in 2017 after repeated problems with them feeding from trash and bird feeders culminated with two bears entering a home in Hanover. But after a public outcry, Republican Gov. Chris Sununu ordered the animals relocated instead.
The three yearlings were moved that year, and one of them was killed by a hunter in Quebec, Canada, within a few weeks. The mother bear, dubbed "Mink" by locals, left town to mate and wasn't captured until last year, after she returned with four new cubs last spring. She was tagged, fitted with a tracking collar and moved about 120 miles (193 kilometers) north to a sparsely populated location near the Canadian border.
But last week, Mink made it back to Hanover after traveling a looping route through New Hampshire and Vermont. Andrew Timmins, the bear project leader with the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department, said Monday that he's been in regular contact with the governor's office and a local bear rehabilitator — and all agree there's no need to take further action at this time.
"This bear has shown us where she wants to be, so let's see if we can do a better job coexisting with her by being more vigilant with food attractants," Timmins said.
Officials favoring euthanasia had argued the animals were no longer afraid of humans and likely would find new neighborhoods to frequent if moved, or would eventually find their way back to Hanover.
"We certainly had seen that in other bears in the past. It actually took her longer than we've experienced in the past," Timmins said, referring to Mink's journey home.
According to her tracking collar data, Mink spent the winter in a den in Pomfret, Vermont. She was back on the move by April, crossing the Connecticut River to get back to New Hampshire less than two weeks ago. Authorities have gotten few calls about the bear in the last year, and none reporting any trouble, Timmins said. As Mink currently has no cubs, it's possible she may spend more time away from downtown Hanover in search of a mate.
"My sense is she'll wander off and find another bear to hang out with," said Sununu, who stands by his decision to intervene.
"We always knew there was a chance that she was going to come back. Fish and Game has been tracking her, and we just hope the people in those towns understand their responsibility in not feeding the bear or unintentionally attracting the bear," he said. "In talking to Fish and Game, it's understood that they're going to treat that situation as they would with any bear, making sure that health and human safety is first."
Sununu isn't the first governor to get involved in wildlife issues.
In 2011, then-Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer signed an executive order to temporarily block the impending slaughter of hundreds of Yellowstone National Park bison. The Democrat worried transporting the animals could spread disease to Montana livestock. Two years ago, current Gov. Steve Bullock cited Schweitzer's order when he, too, blocked the slaughter of hundreds of Yellowstone bison during a dispute with the state Department of Livestock over plans to ship 40 bison in a quarantine program to the Fort Peck Indian Reservation.
In Wisconsin, the Department of Natural Resources in 2011 planned to euthanize an orphaned fawn from a chronic wasting disease area before Republican Gov. Scott Walker intervened. Two years later, he told the agency to find less controversial ways of handling captive deer following a public outcry when agents seized and euthanized a deer from a Kenosha animal shelter.
More recently, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy campaigned on ending the state's bear hunt in 2017. Since taking office, the Democrat has only curtailed hunting on state-owned land, which accounts for about 40% of the area where black bears are hunted. Murphy said he lacks the unilateral authority to end the hunt and would have to work through the regulatory process.
And just last week in Oregon, Gov. Kate Brown slapped down the state wildlife department director's stance backing a proposal to take the gray wolf off the endangered species list. Brown, a Democrat, told federal officials she wanted to "clarify and correct" Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife Director Curtis Melcher and declare the state and its agencies oppose the proposal.
Associated Press writers Matt Volz in Helena, Montana; Todd Richmond in Madison, Wisconsin; Michael Catalini in Trenton, New Jersey, and Andrew Selsky in Salem, Oregon, contributed to this report.