Sunday, November 27, 2022

Plight of the mama bear

By Mark Frost, Chronicle Editor

Bear in Bolton, 2009. Chronicle file photo

Did you catch the widely circulated story about a woman who was attacked by a bear on Nov. 2 near Stratton Mountain Resort in Vermont?

It said that the woman, who fortunately was not severely injured, was attacked after her dog, a Shih Tzu, chased a bear cub up a tree. (The dog was not injured.)

Reports said wildlife officials were searching for the presumed mother bear. It didn’t indicate what became of the cub.

Those unaddressed questions prompted me to seek answers from Vermont officials. This being Vermont, they got right back to me.

“Wildlife biologists and wardens responded to a bear attack in Winhall,” David Sausville, Wildlife Program Manager for the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources, Department of Fish and Wildlife, replied to my initial inquiry.

“A sow with cubs was involved. The attack on the human was instigated by the human’s dog treeing the cubs, which triggered the response by the sow.

“Staff learned the sow is a regular visitor to the surrounding condo development — she continued visiting the site after the attack.

“The attractant appears to be trash, bird seed, and the bears were feeding on pumpkins left around the complex. Pumpkins are often fed on by a variety of wildlife.

“Staff was able to capture the cubs and transport them to the Kilham Bear Center — the sow remains at large.”

So it turns out there were three cubs.

I asked what will become of them.

“The three cubs left with the sow the night of the attack,” Mr. Sausville replied.

“As noted above we have captured the cubs and placed them at the Kilham Bear Center where they will be raised until next year when they are 1.5 years old. We will release them at that time into a new location that is remote and away from Winhall.”

And what of the mama bear? [I took the liberty of lobbying on her behalf: “Seems unfair to me to punish a mother bear defending her cub,” I wrote.]

“Each incident with bears is handled on a case-by-case basis,” Mr. Sausville replied. “Our hope with this sow was that the encounter with humans was traumatic enough that she would not return to the site.

“Unfortunately, the next evening we caught her on security cameras on site and game cameras that the Department put out. She returned with the cubs.

“This indicated that she had lost her fear of humans and was bold enough to return because of the search for food.

“In this case if we had captured the sow she would have been euthanized on behalf of public safety.

“This is not the outcome we hope for, but once a bear repeatedly enters homes or attacks a person, they have crossed a line for public safety.

“We are continuously working to educate the public, condo associations and towns on ways to eliminate food sources for bears in urban areas.

“The number one issue is human trash followed by bird seed. This site had bear proof dumpsters, but some needed repairs, and a bird feeder was found nearby the attack site.

“The one thing I would like to emphasize is that all of Vermont is bear country and that humans must change our habits to live with the bears if we wish to continue to have bears on our landscape.

“Simple changes in our human behavior will make a big difference for the safety of humans and bears.”

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