A family of bears that has made itself at home in Hanover, N.H., has been granted a last-minute stay of execution and will be relocated to northern New Hampshire once caught, state officials said Friday.
The four black bears — three yearlings and their mother — have been feasting on trash and bird seed all over Hanover. After they entered a home last weekend, they had been slated to be trapped and euthanized. But on Thursday, following a broad public outcry, Governor Chris Sununu of New Hampshire said the bears would not be euthanized.
“I am glad that we have been able to find a safe and humane option for these bears and I encourage residents to work with their local town officials to enact ordinances that could help avoid situations like this in the future,” Sununu said in a statement e-mailed to the Globe.
An online petition to save the bears had attracted nearly 10,000 signatures by Friday morning.
Andrew Timmins, the state wildlife biologist who leads the bear program, said the department was standing down on its plan to kill the bears and would instead attempt to relocate them.
“My professional opinion is that what would make the most sense is to destroy these bears,” Timmins said. “But we’re going to give it a shot.” He said the bears will be caught in traps fashioned from road culverts, with doors that swing shut when a bear takes the bait inside.
Relocating the bears is unlikely to succeed, according to Timmins and an independent wildlife biologist. The bears are too acclimated to humans, and would either return to Hanover or take up residence in another town — something other relocated bears have been known to do. Additionally, the northern areas of the state are already populated with bears, who will likely drive the newcomers out of their territory.
“They won’t get murdered, but yes, there’s a resident bear population there,” Timmins said. “I expect they’ll get pushed out.’’ If the bears enter Canada or Maine — less indulgent bear jurisdictions — and get into bear fights, they’ll likely be shot immediately. And bear relocation results in a higher rate of bear-involved car crashes, Timmins said.
Come September, the bears will be fair game: Hunters in New Hampshire killed 898 bears in 2016 — a state record. Licensed hunters in New Hampshire can hunt bears by stalking, or by using dogs or bait. The annual hunting season helps keep the bear population from getting out of hand, Timmins said, but the region in which the Hanover bears have been hanging around is overpopulated.
“We have to start reducing our bear population size,” Timmins said.
Keeping the bears in captivity would also be problematic, experts say.
“These bears have grown up with a large range. The best possible case is that they’re relocated and they like where they are,” said Maureen Clark, a bear trainer at Clark’s Trading Post, where trained black bears do tricks for spectators.
“If it wasn’t for humans, this story wouldn’t even be told,” Clark said.
Nobody is blaming the bears. Timmins said the bears broke bad because some in town continually failed to secure their garbage or bring in their bird feeders during the winter months. Gradually, the bears — the sow has been a Hanover resident for years — got used to the idea of foraging in dumpsters.
For some, the human roots of the bears’ problems drove objections to killing them.
“My personal feeling is that the peaceful relationship the bears have established with the residents is long-standing,” said Mary Holland, a nature writer and photographer who lives nearby. “I feel that it is immoral to decide to destroy the bears because of a few humans’ negligence.”
Timmins and others have called for a town ordinance that would fine people who leave their garbage cans unprotected. Such a proposal would not take effect for some time, a town official said, and may not be effective in an area where many college students live off campus.