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June 18. 2012 9:40PM

Bear to be spared in Grafton


This female bear has been showing up regularly lately at the Kinsman Road property of Anson Smith, not far from Saturday night's incident in Grafton. 
GRAFTON — It looks as though the life of a mother bear that mauled a Grafton woman will be spared, a New Hampshire Fish and Game Department major said Monday.

If officers trap a sow in the neighborhood — which has had many bear sightings — they can't be sure it's the same animal that tangled with Tracey Colburn Saturday night.

“To identify the correct bear is a challenge. If we do trap one, we'll probably relocate it,” Maj. Kevin Jordan said Monday.

Colburn told Grafton Fire Chief John Babiarz the sow and her two cubs may have been attracted by the smell of a pot roast she was cooking. When she went to let her dog out the back door, she came face to face with the sow, who took a swipe at the 46-year-old.

Carole Colburn said Sunday night 25 stitches were required to close the gashes in her stepdaughter's forearms.

Fish and Game investigators, along with bear expert Ben Kilham of Lyme, say it's likely the bear acted aggressively because she was defending the cubs against what she thought was a threat from Colburn and the dog, which chased away the sow and saved Colburn from further injury.

Kilham said last year's mild weather provided a rich feeding year for bears with the result that the population is thriving. Bear sightings are up throughout New Hampshire, including in the Sargent Hill Road area of Grafton where Colburn lives.

Jordan said the state will likely continue its overall policy of euthanizing bears that attack people.

“You can't put them above the safety of human beings, even though we prize all animals. The question is, why are bears coming into neighborhoods? Why are they coming to us for feed?”

Jordan said that Fish and Game's District Three Chief James Kneeland's investigation of the incident over the weekend concluded that Colburn had not been feeding bears. There was no evidence of bird feeders, cooking grills or trash with food items on her property.

“But was there somebody else in the neighborhood providing a food supply? My guess is there was,” Jordan said.

Kilham, who now has 17 cubs to raise until they're old enough to be released into the wild next year, said bears typically avoid contact with humans.

“A bear in the wild will spend maybe 1 percent of its life in contact with people,” he said.

Grafton Selectwoman Jennie Joyce had been one of several residents vocal Sunday in their opposition to the plan to trap and euthanize the bear. She said Monday it was good news that any bear the state traps in Grafton may now get a reprieve.

“Yes, it is. I would rather have it relocated than killed,” she said.

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Bob Hookway may be reached at bhookway@newstote.com.

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