After attack, bear may be euthanized

Union Leader Correspondent
June 17. 2012 10:18PM
This female and her three cubs have been showing up regularly lately at the Kinsman Road property of Anson Smith, not far from the site of Saturday night's incident. (COURTESY)
Neighbors of a Grafton woman who had her arms mauled Saturday night by a mother bear with cubs are concerned about New Hampshire Fish and Game's plan to capture and euthanize the sow.

The confrontation happened when Tracey Colburn came face to face with a bear while letting her dog out of her Sargent Hill Road home. She suffered injuries to both arms - 25 stitches and a deep gouge from one of the bear's claws.

'It doesn't sound like a killer bear,' longtime bear rehabilitator Ben Kilham said Sunday night. 'It's an accidental encounter on both sides. Rather than just shooting the bear, it would be good to take the time and make sure there's a good reason.'

If the sow is killed, her cubs would end up with Kilham. He and his wife, Debbie, and his sister, Phoebe, have been rehabilitating bears at their Lyme wildlife compound for 18 years, he said.

Fish and Game officials spent much of Sunday examining the case before concluding they'd have to catch and euthanize the sow. But by Sunday night, neighbors of the injured woman, along with a member of the Grafton selectboard, were urging Fish and Game to go more slowly.

Colburn does not have a working telephone, according to her stepmother, Carole Colburn, who went to her stepdaughter's home Sunday evening. She said Tracey Colburn was 'exhausted' from the bear encounter and had spent much of Sunday being interviewed by Fish and Game officers.

Earlier Sunday, Grafton Fire Chief John Babiarz said it was thanks to Colburn's dog that the 46-year-old woman wasn't badly hurt.

'The dog jumped ... and attacked the bear,' Babiarz said.

The incident happened around 10 p.m. Saturday as Colburn cooked a pot roast, according to Babiarz. She kept a kitchen window open as she cooked, and the smell of the roast apparently attracted a mother bear and her cubs.

Colburn was unaware the bear was on her porch when she opened the back door to let the dog out, Babiarz said. In an instant, she saw the bear and fell back as the bear charged, swiping her arms and leaving deep cuts, he said.

The dog then leapt from behind its owner and chased the bear and her two cubs off the property.

Being 'the bad guy'

Lt. James Kneeland, Fish and Game's District Three chief, said Sunday night conservation officers had set a culvert trap near Colburn's home to capture the sow if it returns.

Kneeland said state officials can't take the chance the bear will attack someone else, even though the mother bear was likely defending her cubs.

'I'm sure she was. It's unfortunate. Somebody's got to be the bad guy here, and I guess it's me,' said Kneeland, adding that the state could face a 'large liability' issue if officers catch and release the sow, and it harms someone else.

Grafton Selectwoman Jennie Joyce said Sunday she was very upset about the plan to kill the bear, and sent an e-mail to that effect to the Fish and Game director's office. Joyce said she was acting on her own, and not on behalf of the selectboard.

'I want them to investigate this further,' she said.

The right bear

Grafton resident Anson Smith who lives on Kinsman Road, not far from Colburn's home, raised another issue Sunday night. What if conservation officers euthanize the wrong bear?

Smith said there have been plenty of bear and cub sightings in the area. He said a sow and three cubs visit his property regularly. He provided the New Hampshire Union Leader with photos of them.

'We don't know what bear this was. She startled the bear; it wasn't the bear's fault,' he said.

Kneeland said the captured sow would be examined closely, and every effort would be made to ensure the one that injured Colburn is the one that's euthanized.

An extraordinary year

Meanwhile, Kilham said he now has 17 cubs to raise until they can be released next year - by far the highest number he's ever had at one time.

'It's been an extraordinary year for us. There are a lot of sows with cubs around this year,' he said.

He attributed it to the exceptional abundance of food available to bears, thanks to mild weather. Still, he said, it's much better when nature can take its course rather than cubs relying on humans to be raised.

'Mother bears do a heckuva' lot better job raising cubs that we do,' he said.

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