October 10. 2018 3:54PM

Killing of Manchester bear cubs shocks some, was matter of public safety says Fish and Game

New Hampshire Union Leader

Sundance Village resident John Pelletier, middle, reacts to the shooting of the bear cubs Tuesday morning. (DAVID LANE/UNION LEADER)

MANCHESTER — A Fish and Game biologist shot and killed two bear cubs Tuesday afternoon after they showed up near apartment complexes off heavily traveled Front Street, a top Fish and Game official said.

Residents of Sundance Village apartments and a maintenance man at adjacent Greenview Village were shocked to hear the crack of a rifle and learn the fate of the bears. 

Killing the cubs is in sharp contrast to the agency's actions last year, when Gov. Chris Sununu ordered an entire family of bears that had been hassling Hanover homeowners to be trapped and relocated, they said.

And they said the Fish and Game worker, who wasn't in uniform and drove an unmarked red pickup truck, took off when they tried to confront him.

"I'm not a stupid chicken," said John Pelletier. "There's no way you can convince me this guy was a biologist. He was a poacher." 

Pelletier, who lives at Sundance, photographed the cubs and confronted the man after he saw him heave one of the cub's bodies into the truck bed.

Glenn Normandeau, executive director of New Hampshire Fish and Game, said the shooter was in fact a state biologist who had concluded the cubs had to die because they were too close to the busy road — Front Street is also Route 3A.

"It's a function of whether or not you think there's an imminent danger. It's not what we would normally do," Normandeau said. "They could have run across 3A, caused a five-car accident with dead people."

No one is happy with what happened, Normandeau said. "In hindsight, you might say you could have done something different."

Normandeau said people can second-guess the decision, but he trusts his department's highly educated, trained experts to make the right call in the field. Pulling the trigger is never a snap decision and is done to assure public safety, he said.

Regardless of the state's intent, residents of Sundance, a subsidized apartment complex for seniors, were appalled.

"That doesn't seem like the 'North Woods Law' show I watched last night," said Al April. In that show, Fish and Game conservation officers used tranquilizer darts to capture and relocate a fawn, he said.

Residents said they saw the biologist pull up in a pickup truck, take out a rifle and walk into nearby brush. The wooded area hides a brook separating Sundance from Greenview Village to the east. 

Meanwhile, two bear cubs, each about 80 pounds and the size of a large dog, meandered into the parking lot, said Pelletier, who photographed them. One stood on its hind legs and they seemed to be playing, he said.

The cubs then walked into the woods. Soon after, Pelletier heard a pop.

Minutes later, the biologist emerged, ran across the parking lot to throw his rifle in the truck, then returned to the woods. When he reemerged, Pelletier said, the biologist was carrying one cub by the nape of the neck and the lower back, and pitched the body into the bed of the truck.

Pelletier said he told the man to stop and that the police were on the way, but the biologist drove off, nearly running over Pelletier's toes. The man also used several vulgarities, according to Pelletier.

"If he was a biologist with Fish and Game, that biologist and Fish and Game need to come here and apologize for almost running me over," he said.

At Greenview Terrace, a maintenance man said he thought the biologist had just tranquilized the animal, not killed it.

"He said it was road kill and he was getting rid of it," said the maintenance man, who only gave his first name, Joe. Like Pelletier and April, he doubted Normandeau's explanation that the shooter was a Fish and Game employee given the way he acted. "He poached it."

The Fish and Game employee acted the way he did because he was afraid of a confrontation, Normandeau said.

The neighbors said they saw only one bear killed and taken away, but Normandeau said both bears were killed. 

All wildlife are struggling with a shortage of beechnuts and acorns to eat, he said. The food sources were abundant over the past several summers.

"Everything is on the move right now looking for food," Normandeau said. 

Normandeau said Fish and Game answers an average of 500 calls for nuisance bears every year, and each year only two to five bears have to be killed.

He said the Manchester cubs were born earlier this year. Cubs stay with their mother at this point in their life cycle, but no mother bear was found Tuesday. Normandeau said the mother might have been on the other side of a highway from her cubs. Interstate 293 is about a quarter-mile from where the cubs were killed; Interstate 93 is about a mile away.

The neighborhood includes apartment complexes, condominiums, strip malls and big-box stores, but is surrounded by heavily wooded areas.