They killed approximately one dozen chickens, and then they went for the beehive.
So a man shot and killed the two bear cubs that had wandered onto his property, right there on the spot.
New Hampshire wildlife officials said a Tamworth resident who took down the bears this week was well within his right to do so, citing a state law that allows property owners to take matters into their own hands if an animal inflicts “actual and substantial damage.”
But in the wake of the shooting, experts are reminding people that there are other ways to deal with bears — remedies that don’t call for deadly violence.
“There are a lot of programs in place for preventing these types of issues,” said Andrew Timmins, a biologist and bear project leader with the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department. “And it would be nice if we were given the opportunity to mitigate these situations before people take a lethal approach.”
Timmins said residents who feel threatened by the bear population, or who have been dealing with a bear or bears that have gone after beehives, poultry, or livestock can contact Fish and Game officials and ask for assistance.
He said the department has a “loan program” where they will help set up electric fencing around an area where property owners want to keep bears out, free of charge.
“The whole idea is to show people this equipment works, and encourage people to make the investment themselves,” he said. “If you take a few precautions — if you don’t feed birds in the summer and keep garbage contained and clean up and use electric fences around the chicken pen — you can really minimize these conflicts considerably.”
Timmins said he would like to see the state law reviewed to require more responsibility on the homeowner’s behalf.
“The state law allows people to protect their property from wildlife damage,” he said. “But it’s important to recognize that the state law is 100-plus years old. That law was put in place when people were living off the land, and their ability to survive depended on them raising cattle.”
He said officials look at the situation differently for bears that go into people’s houses or become too comfortable in an urban setting. In those cases, department policy calls for those animals “to be destroyed.”
Joe Canfield, conservation officer with New Hampshire Fish and Game, responded to the scene where the two cubs were killed this week.
He said the resident, who did not return a request for comment, told officials that he had been having problems with the bears before he shot them for breaking into his chicken coop and going after a beehive.
In such cases, Canfield said officers will investigate the damage done by the bears to make sure the use of force was justified.
Like Timmins, Canfield said officials encourage people to seek out other options when trying to handle bears that prove to be a nuisance.
In this instance, he said, it seemed the resident “didn’t have a chance to get that stuff up before the damage occurred.”
“But,” Canfield added, “what we tell most people is that if you shoot one bear, it doesn’t solve the problem. Another bear takes its place.”
That’s why Timmins prefers a different approach.
“If [the resident] had called us, we could [have] gone and helped,” Timmins said. “But rather than do that, he chose just to utilize the state law to shoot his way out of the situation.”Steve Annear can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @steveannear.