This Thing Called Courage

Friday, July 13, 2007

Bear Trouble


THIS IS FROM TODAY'S BOSTON GLOBE. There is a fondness in my heart for Athol since my trip there this spring where I did a reading at Bruce's Browser, the wonderful bookstore at 1497 Main Street in the 'Uptown' section, owned by Diane Lincoln, a good friend of Allen Young, who hosted us for lunch at his beautiful and utterly unique 'Octagon House' in Royalston, Massachusetts. (Allen is the author of the wonderful book 'North of Quabbin' and the recently updated version of that, 'North of Quabbin Revisted,' which explores the nine town area north of Quabbin.

Bear shot, then euthanized after tranquilizers fail to slow it
July 13, 2007

ATHOL, Mass. --Police concerned with the safety of a crowd that gathered in downtown Athol to see a bear that had wandered into the area shot the animal after several efforts to tranquilize it failed.

The bear, weighing an estimated 500 to 600 pounds, was eventually euthanized by state environmental police.

"The Athol Police Department truly regrets the incident had to end in the manner that it did with the destruction of this truly awe-inspiring and amazing wild creature," Chief Timothy Anderson said in a statement.

The bear first showed up early in the afternoon, police Sgt. Christopher Casella said.

Local police surrounded the bear until environmental police responded to the scene and shot it twice with tranquilizer darts so it could be relocated to an unpopulated area.

But the drugs barely slowed the animal, which resisted several more efforts at tranquilization and forced police to tell onlookers to back up on several occasions.

The bear eventually forced its way into an enclosed area surrounding a warehouse, and after another effort at tranquilization, was shot as it charged a gate in an attempt to escape.

Athol, a community with roughly 11,500 residents, is about 70 miles west of Boston.

-30-

Allen sent this out (below) this am. It's an article he wrote in 1982 for his book, with a 2007 update. Really interesting. I was fascinated to learn that a bear can easily outrun a horse!!!

People Problem, Not BearBy Allen Young.

The ³trouble bear² that caused a stir recently in Athol -- now
presumably enjoying life undisturbed in northern New Hampshire woods -- did
not wander in-to the Athol area on its own but had been captured earlier by
researchers in the western part of the state and brought to the Birch Hill
Wildlife Management Area, according to Richard Cronin, chief of the state¹s
Division of Fisheries and Wildlife.
Kenneth Elowe of Whately, a graduate student at the University of
Massachusetts and a member of a research team studying bears in the state,
said that a week before the bear was sighted in Athol, it had been bothering
a woman¹s beehives in Southampton. Following complaints of residents there,
the animal was tranquilized and transported to Birch Hill land in Winchendon
by the research team.
Elowe explained that the state has ³no set policy on nuisance animals,²
and one of the purposes in bringing the bear to Birch Hill was to see if it
would make contact with humans again. It did -- being first sighted in the
Chestnut Hill Avenue area of Athol and then observed damaging beehives on
Old Keene Road.
The bear was brought to Birch Hill, which includes land in Royalston,
with the permission of state officials, according to Cronin, although he
said in a telephone interview he was ³a little upset² that he had not been
apprised personally of the situation. Later, when the bear came back into
the public eye in Athol, Cronin was notified and participated in the
decision to remove the animal.
Although this particular bear was brought into the area by scientists,
it could well have come in on its own. The animals are moving from the area
west of the Connecticut River into Central Massachusetts as the black bear
population in the state grows.
That assessment was offered recently by George T. Taylor of Russell,
who, aided by his hounds, helped track down and capture the bear in
Royalston after a five-hour chase from the Old Keene Road area.
The bear was tranquilized by Elowe and taken ³as far away from
civilization as possible,² according to Taylor, who is a cooperator with a
statewide research project involving the Massachusetts fish and wildlife
division and the U.S. Department of Interior¹s fish and game division -- the
same project Elowe is involved with.
New Hampshire¹s Fish and Game Department should be credited with saving
this particular bear¹s life. Cronin said he told the researchers that if
they could not get New Hampshire to assent to the bear being moved there,
the animal should get an overdose of tranquilizer and thus be killed. ³If we
bring it in to an area,² Cronin explained, ³we have responsibilities, and
doing away with it would have been the only alternative.²
The bear was taken to the sparsely populated area around the towns of
Errol and Pittsburgh, north of the White Mountains toward the Canadian
border. However, Taylor predicts it will come into contact with humans
again, even there. ³Once they have become habituated to be involved with
man, they usually continue,² he said.
The whole question of how to deal with bears, as the population grows,
is relatively new and without clear answers. Elowe said, ³When it comes
right down to it, the bear should not have been moved in the first place,²
and he said even if the bear were left in Athol it probably would not have
done any harm.
Elowe said it was ³more a people problem² than anything else. He said a
program of public education is needed, especially for beekeepers and
farmers. He said beekeepers with hives at the edge of woods should surround
them with electric fence. Farmers with cornfields should do what they can to
not attract bears -- for example, refrain from dumping dead cows at the edge
of a field, for this attracts bears.
Taylor estimates the bear population in Massachusetts at approximately
600. Most of them are located west of the Connecticut, he said, but the
animals are just beginning to spread eastward.
Since the bear has no natural predators, woodland areas -- and Central
Massachusetts has lots of woods -- are ³perfect bear habitats.²
Taylor owns 41 specially-bred hounds used to track and hunt bears. He
brought five of them to Athol when he was contacted by game wardens in
regard to the ³trouble bear² that had been raiding beehives. Elowe and Dr.
Wendell Dodge, researchers affiliated with the University of Massachusetts,
also were here, along with state game wardens Daniel Lemerise and Denis
Brennan.
Taylor, who is 43 and an insurance agent by profession, says his
interest in bears and bear hunting is linked to his love of nature and the
outdoors. His work with the research team is on a volunteer basis.
The hounds he owns -- which he also breeds, raises and trains - are used
in his part-time guide service for black bear and cat hunts in New Hampshire
(where he is a licensed guide) and for the tracking and research work he
does in Massachusetts.
The breeds of dogs originally come from Germany and England, and have
been bred in the U.S. for more than 200 years. Taylor raises Plott hounds, a
German breed known as bear and wild boar hounds, and Walker hounds,
originally developed in England for hunting foxes.
As a young boy, Taylor helped his father, George Taylor Sr. of Barre,
raise similar hounds. Taylor said he has seen bears in Barre and was not
surprised to hear of a bear in Athol. ³Bears are found in areas far more
populous than that,² he said.
³Bears lead very secretive lives,² Taylor explained, and often escape
the detection of human beings. They are omnivorous. Their diet includes
rodents -- they will dig mice out of their burrows. But they are also
grazers, and in the springtime they eat grasses, which may bring them out of
the woods into open areas. Summertime bear favorites are berries. In the
fall, they like acorns and beech nuts. They also eat ant eggs and bee
larvae, thus explaining their attraction to hives at this time of year.
However, according to Taylor, ³Relatively few bears get into beehives.²
They are ³opportunistic² when it comes to food, Taylor said, but to the
extent that the bear can be described as a meat-eater, it is ³the most
efficient carnivore, and certainly the largest carnivore in the northeast.²
Taylor said the team that has been researching the movement, feeding and
denning patterns of the black bear in Massachusetts hopes that ³trouble
bears² ---those who make themselves visible in inhabited areas -- will not
hurt human beings or end up being shot themselves as a result of
misunderstanding.
In general, human beings don¹t understand bears, he said, maintaining
that the animals are ³extremely unpredictable.² He said, ³Most people have a
Walt Disney vision of what bears are like, thinking of them as slow,
lethargic creatures; but that is a misconception. Actually, a bear can
easily outrun a horse. They have tremendous speed and strength.² Elowe
expressed concern about the tendency for rumors to fly when a bear is seen.
He said when he first received a report on the bear in Athol, he was told it
had killed calves. This turned out not to be the case.
Taylor explained the procedure for tracking a bear, which begins with a
striker hound which is trained to sit on the hood of his car as it slowly
goes through the area until the hound catches the scent of the bear. The
hound is trained to respond only to the bear¹s scent, so that when the dog
barks, the tracking team knows the bear is nearby. Once it is established
that the bear is in the immediate area, other hounds are used to begin the
chase which can last anywhere from a few minutes to an entire day.
When the hounds have chased the bear up a tree, they are tied up. Then,
nets are spread out. The bear is tranquilized so that it can be tagged and
weighed. The biologist also extracts a molar so that the age of the bear can
be determined with the help of an electron microscope. This procedure is so
accurate, according to Taylor, that the bear¹s age can be determined to
within a few months.
The bear is fitted with a telemetric collar so that its path can be
tracked after it has been relocated and set free.
This is the procedure that was used by the team after the bear was treed
in Royalston, north of Route 68, after a circuitous chase from Athol across
Lawrence Brook and through the Birch Hill Wildlife Management Area.
The black bear research project, now in its third year, has also
examined how bear family relationships operate. Taylor said the image of the
³mama bear, papa bear and baby bears² is far from the reality.
The individual tranquilized and captured in Royalston ³is not what you¹d
call a family man,² he said. Large males such as this one -- who weighed 240
pounds and measured more than six feet -- -are predominately ³loners² and
may ³service 12-20 females,² he said. They sometimes even run down young
male cubs and kill them.
Taylor has studied bear lore dating back to the days of the Native
American inhabitants of the state. He said the Mohawks and other Indians
believed bears were ³super human beings² of the highest order. They would
not kill bears because they believed a bear was a reincarnation of a human
being who had led a particularly successful life. If they found a dead bear,
they used the hides for clothing and the teeth and skull for religious
purposes, he said.
Taylor describes himself as a ³sportsman² and he wants people to know
that his work as a hunting guide does not mean he is ³out to kill every
bear.² He said his hunting parties are not permitted to kill females or
yearlings.
One reason he is involved in the research program, Taylor said, is to
prevent unfortunate incidents in which people take action against bears
unnecessarily, such as shooting them -- which he described as ³sickening.²
His desire is to see the bear population grow but remain managed so that
hunting can continue and the species endure. Only two bears were killed in
Massachusetts during the 1981 season, according to Taylor, who said a
greater number were killed by cars on highways.
One of Taylor¹s current concerns is federal budget-cutting that will
drastically curtail the funding for the cooperative unit working in
Massachusetts. ³Now is the time for people to do something,² Taylor said,
and he recommended that people supportive of this work with bears write to
President Ronald Reagan and to Sens. Edward Kennedy and Paul Tsongas and
Rep. Silvio Conte.
###
Originally published in the Athol Daily News, May 22, 1982.
###
2007 Update: Hunting bears with dogs was made illegal in 1996. The bear
population in Massachusetts continues to grow, primarily west of the
Connecticut River, but the animals have become well-established in the North
Quabbin Region, too, with fairly frequent sightings. In 2006, 148 bears were
killed by licensed hunters in the state, about half of them in Berkshire
County. There were 32 taken in Franklin County and five in Worcester County.
Ken Elowe now serves as Director of Resource Management for the Maine
Departent of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife. I was unable to obtain any current
information about George T. Taylor and his hounds. MassWildlife has
published pamphlets and placed material on its website,
www.masswildlife.org, to inform residents, especially farmers and
beekeepers, about what they can do to co-exist happily with bears.

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