Black Bears And Other Wildlife Encroaching On Humans

June 30, 2007

Tom Remington
By Tom Remington

Now there’s a headline you’re not going to see very often, if at all. It’s also one that will rile the dander of just about every anti-hunter and animal rights group that believe humans should take a back seat to animals and let them run nilly-willy over the countryside.

All we ever hear about these days when it comes to human/wild animal encounters is how man is encroaching on wildlife and that we are to blame for forcing these poor innocent creatures into our backyards to eat our garbage, kill our pets and attack children.

What if it’s not our fault? What if the cause of these increases in coyote attacks in New Jersey and bear attacks in Utah, Pennsylvania and Kentucky were just the result of too many animals?

Don’t get me wrong. I do think that we are building far too many homes and developing too many areas that once was fine habitat for many species of wildlife but if we are to blame ourselves for these attacks, maybe we should consider that we have done such a great job managing our game and wildlife that we now have too many.

I’ve written several articles of late concerning bear attacks on humans. The latest being that of 11-year old Samuel Ives in Utah while camping with family. One particular article, “Expert Advice On Dealing With Black Bears“, relates to an article written in the Bangor Daily News by John Holyoke about how to deal with black bears. Holyoke talked with Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife field expert on bears, Randy Cross.

In that article, I took issue with a comment cross made about the frequency of bear attacks.

“I think it’s remote out there [in Utah] as well,” he said. “It’s not like it happens five times a year or even five times in a decade. We’re talking about something that happens less than five times in a century … almost anywhere you want to go.”

The article began a mini debate. Reader Richard Paradis wanted to know if I had links to support my claim that bear attacks occurred far more often than Cross suggested. I had forgotten to include the links in the original story and added them later in the comments section. Here again are those links.

Southeastern Outdoors, where they claim that there have been 52 known fatal black bear attacks in North America in the last 100 years.

Cooperative Extension Service of the University of Washington. This article claims there have been 45 black bear deaths since 1900.

Ithaca37, another Black Bear Blog reader wrote:

It is not as much bans on hunting as it is urban sprawl that has led to increased human-wild animal contacts. As people push farther[sic] out into “the woods”, the less space there is for wildlife.

The fact that there have been more attacks recently doesn’t mean anything unless you look at urban sprawl and what has happened to the number of national park visitors. I do not know if there are more people visiting national parks or not, but until someone can demonstrate that there has not been a significant change in other factors there can be no positive link between number of bear attacks and hunting bans.

I responded to Ithaca37 that there had to be some degree of a correlation between encroachment and the closing of hunting lands by landowners sprawling further out into the woods, resulting in less hunting opportunities. With less hunting comes an increase in bear populations.

Paradis, having some kind of trouble last evening posting further comments, sent me an email with information in it about bear populations and changes in hunting regulations.

The argument here is whether or not bears are encroaching on us or we are encroaching on them. Paradis points out an article that appears in the Foggy Mountain Guide Service website that was written by Craig McLaughlin, Ph.D., Wildlife Biologist, Maine Inland Fisheries and Wildlife.

The statewide population was estimated at 6,000-9,000 in 1979, and season restrictions were implemented to guard against over harvests. By 1984, improved information on bear densities yielded a revised statewide estimate of 18,000 bears. The 1985 population was estimated at 21,000 bears, but renewed interest in hunting and escalating harvests during the late 1980s reduced the population to 18,000 bears by 1989.

Additional restrictions on hunting season length have increased bear survival during the 1990s, and the population increased to 22,000-23,000 bears in 1998.

I’ll revert back to the Bangor Daily News piece in which Cross points out that Maine probably has fewer human/bear encounters because of hunting pressure that helps instill that fear of man by bears.

“The biggest problem I think you have with bears becoming dangerous are bears that have lost their fear of humans,” Cross said. “The habituation of bears usually begins with inadvertent feeding of bears and escalates from there. But once bears have lost their fear of humans, they’re a much more dangerous animal at that point.”

Cross said Maine’s hunting heritage may be a factor in reducing bear-human contact here, in that the most aggressive, bold bears are generally among the bruins that are shot each year.

Doesn’t this further explain why there are increased human/bear encounters in areas where bears are not hunted than in those that aren’t? Maine has a relatively small human population in proportion to land mass but one of the largest black bear populations in the U.S. One would think Maine would have more bear/human attacks than most other states.

Even to further confirm the 23,000 bear population estimate for Maine, back in 2004 during the big bear hunting referendum debate, opponents of that initiative put together a television commercial in which Jennifer Vashon, a wildlife biologist for the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, made the following statement.

“I’m Jennifer Vashon, the state’s bear biologist. Maine’s bear population is healthy and growing. Today we have over 23,000 black bears – one of the largest bear populations in the country. Our bear hunt is highly regulated and closely monitored by wildlife experts”.

We have to ask ourselves who’s encroaching on whom? As Paradis pointed out in his email, a 400% increase in bear numbers is huge.

I believe the fact that we have nearly a 400% increase in bear population in Maine over a relatively short period of time to be the most significant cause.

Cause, is referring to the cause for human/bear encounter increases.

Maine is only one case. I have no statistics on other states as far as increases in bear populations. On the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources website, officials estimate the black bear population at between 2,000 and 4,000.

Bunnell says Utah’s black bear population numbers between 2,000 to 4,000 bears. “While that may sound like a lot of bears, our bear population is actually small compared to many other states,” he says.

Bunnell says bears can be found in almost any mountainous area in Utah.

There is one other issue to address in which Ithaca37 brought up. This was the one of whether there was any increase in visitors to National Parks that would add to the increase in bear/human encounters.

Paradis pointed out an article published in the Portland Press Herald in July of 2006 that states that visits to Maine’s parks have taken a sharp decline and that it is a reflection of the trend nationwide.

Use of Maine’s two premier parks – Baxter State Park and Acadia National Park – has fallen sharply since 2000, a drop that mirrors national trends and is blamed by some on an exploding preoccupation with the Internet and entertainment media………

Attendance at Acadia dropped 20 percent during the same period, from 2.5 million to 2 million…….

The study found that park attendance increased nationally from 1939 to 1987. The steady decline since then has accompanied an explosion in electronic entertainment.

If this is true, then isn’t this further evidence that there are more bears, perhaps more than officials estimate and that there is far more competition among the animals for food and good habitat forcing them more into our back yards and campsites?

I’ll say it again. We need to slow down the sprawl and building of homes in the middle of wildlife habitat but we also need to stop completely blaming human encroachment on wildlife as the only cause for increased human/wildlife encounters.

We do a great job overall in managing our wild animals, perhaps too good. Demand is increasing from U.S. citizens to be able to drive around a view wildlife. With better science and management skills, decreased access to land for hunting, urban sprawl and development and continued insistence by anti-hunting and animal rights groups to ban hunting and trapping, this trend toward human/animal conflict will continue to rise. With this rise, fish and game officials will have to more closely monitor wildlife populations and manage accordingly.

I want to thank Richard Paradis for taking the time to email me the links with the very helpful information on them.

Tom Remington

George’s Bear

June 19, 2007

By A. Sayward Lamb

A. Sayward Lamb

This story begins in November of 1966, when my two sons, Jim, Ron, and I, went deer hunting beside Route 26, in South Woodstock, Maine. At that time I had an old, four-cylinder Jeep, pick-up truck. We left it parked in front of the Union Church, now used as a community building, at Andrews turn, while we hunted a place we called: “Guysie’s Strip”. It did not take us very long to hunt out that area, and when we got back to the Jeep, we found a note attached to our windshield. It read: “George would like you to bring your truck up to the “Woody” Benson place”. It was simply signed: “Alta”.

We knew the note was written by Alta Waterhouse, and George was her husband. They lived in Perkins Valley, in South Woodstock, and their home was right next to the entrance to the Commons road. My oldest son, Jim, was a classmate of their son, Alan, and the boys were very good friends.. I have known Alta and George for many years. I also knew exactly the place where George would be waiting for us, even though the note said only: “Woody” Benson place.

George had a favorite “stand” up on the top of that knoll, and I had seen him sitting there watching for deer, several times, over the many years that I have hunted that country. Anyway, with our note in hand, we piled into the Jeep and headed up the Perkins Valley road, bound for the “Woody” Benson place. We stopped by at the Waterhouse residence on the way, to see if Alta was home. No one answered our knocks, so we locked the Jeep into four-wheel drive and headed up the Commons road. We came to the junction of the road leading to the “Woody” Benson place, and turned right and headed easterly up that road. We had to travel slowly here because this was nothing more than an old logging road, grown in with heavy brush, that rubbed along the sides of the truck, as we moved along. The roadway itself was badly rutted and washed out in several places, but it was passable with our four-wheel drive engaged.

We were doing just fine until we got about two-thirds of the way to our destination, which was the opening, in some grown up fields, adjacent to the cellar hole where the farm used to be, many years ago. I started through a wet spot, but did not realize how wet it was, until my front wheels became mired in the mud. Fortunately, I had eased into that spot very slowly, so the rear wheels sank in very little. Rather than “bury” myself any deeper, I stopped where I was. I told the boys to go on ahead up to where we expected George to be. I stayed and got the Jeep backed out onto firm ground by throwing rocks and brush into the ruts. It took a while, but “Bluebird” did come out under its own power, so I turned the truck around and got ready to take a hike and meet up with the rest of them.

We thought George probably had shot a very large buck, and needed the truck to get it back down to his house. The ground was still bare, so dragging a big buck would be a difficult job for one person. I had hardly finished getting the truck out of the mud hole when I heard voices coming from up ahead, in the road. I looked up that way and saw Alan Waterhouse, along with Jim and Ron, dragging a bear behind them. Those young fellows had worked themselves up to a hard sweat, by the time they got to the truck. The bear was not a large one, and my guess was that it might weigh in the vicinity of 150 pounds, field dressed. The boys told me the bear dragged easily, as long as they kept it coming directly behind them. Their problem though, was to keep it in that position. It was so fat, or as they described it, “roly-poly”, that it was impossible to keep the bear from rolling into any sort of depression in the ground. It also caught up on trees, shrubs, brush, rocks, and other obstacles, as they pulled it through the woods. Many times they had to stop and pull it away from some obstruction. No doubt, it was hard work, even for those young fellows.

I think George was smart to get help. He probably knew about characteristics that made a bear roll around on the ground like a “bowl full of jelly”. When I saw George, he was walking along behind the bear, carrying the rifle in his arms. He had the easy way out! It was lucky Alta found our Jeep pick-up, and left the message, because it made a much shorter drag to get the bear home.

Of course we were all anxious to hear the details of how George shot the bear. After we congratulated him, George told us this story. “It happened fast. I was sitting by the deer crossing, and first thing I knew I saw a bear coming directly at me, right up close. I don’t think he was twenty feet away when I shot it. I had to shoot to defend myself!”

We all grabbed hold of the bear as best we could, and loaded it into the back of the pick-up truck. George sat in front with me, while the boys sat in back with the bear, and we slowly headed back down the old road, to George’s house, where we helped to hang the bear up in a tree. George offered to pay me for our troubles, but of course I refused. We were more than glad to help, and I’m sure the boys enjoyed the experience of helping drag the bear out of the woods, even if it was hard work. They told me later they were glad it wasn’t any bigger.

A few days later, Alta Waterhouse stopped by at our house in West Paris, and left a big piece of bear meat. I had never tasted bear meat, so I was anxious to try some. My wife, Cynthia, had some reservations about eating it. I sliced off some good looking steaks, and fried enough for the whole family. We had potatoes, fried onions, bear steak, and other good “fixings”. How did we like it? On the whole, I would say, “Fine!” The grain of the meat was somewhat coarser than venison, or beef. It also had a different odor when it was cooking. I believe this is what turned Cynthia “off”, because she says she would not care to eat any more bear meat. I called it good, and I believe I would enjoy eating bear meat anytime, especially if it came from a young bear, such as the one George shot.

Spring Deer Scouting

June 19, 2007

By Robert Lane

Robert Lane

In late March and early April, most outdoorsmen and women in Maine are tuning fishing gear, buying new tackle and anxiously waiting for ice-out on their favorite lakes and ponds. After a winter like this one, that can be several long weeks depending on what part of the state you live in. If you’re anything like me, most of your tackle was inspected, cleaned and any necessary repairs made over the winter. When the waters open up, I want to grab it and go.
So what to do in the downtime between the last of the snow in the greengrowth and the day when you can finally launch the boat or canoe on your favorite waterway?

It is a wise hunter who sallies forth to take stock of deer activity in familiar and new hunting grounds.

This time of year as the snow depth decreases, deer assume their normal travel, feeding, and watering patterns. It’s one of my favorite and most productive times for early scouting for next fall’s venison.

Deer move more now, and shallow snow depths provide good tracking capability. Numerous clumps of fresh droppings show up well in the final patches of snow. These provide clues to where deer are spending most of their time, as opposed to just passing through. Not only is this a good time to determine how many animals are in a particular spot, I can also get an idea of the size of the deer that have survived the previous hunting season and recent winter.

Most of these things are relatively easy to do while hunting a familiar area. I religiously spend ample time afield this time of year and throughout the summer to be sure that I haven’t missed anything and that my regular stands will still be good producers. Even then things can cause the animal’s patterns to change – wood harvesting, maturing growth, drought, and worst of all, development. Over the years I‘ve seen one or more of these factors effect the deer patterns in an area that I hunt exclusively. I still manage to bring home the venison from that diverse chunk of forest, but only because I spend considerable time and effort over the course of the year scouting it.

When I first started hunting my favorite honey hole fifteen years ago, it had been selectively harvested the year before. I was able to take advantage of long, exposed shooting lanes, edges of dense fir stands, alder thickets and sprawling tracts of beech and oak trees. There was lots of feeding going on in the leftover hemlock tops and newly sprouting raspberry bushes as well.

Nearby there is a small pond where the deer drank and bedded in the thick growth around its edges. They had tramped well worn routes from bedding cover, to feed and water. Through observation I managed to select several spots for my self-climber where I had managed to take a deer each season.

Over the years these cuts grew in with beech, pine, and birch which dramatically changed the deer’s patterns. This also altered, and, as I thought at the end of one season, lessened my options, as I no longer had the advantage of a good view of a major staging area. This is an area where the animals stopped to wait for the cover of darkness before moving into a field 300 yards away.

In mid January following hunting season, I walked into the tall pine tree where I had shot a nice 8 point buck from my stand on opening day. I had taken a deer from this spot for 9 consecutive seasons. When I shot my last buck from that stand, the line of sight to the stand of beech and oak it overlooked was pretty much grown in and the previously well worn deer trails into it had also grown in. The deer were hardly using it anymore. On top of that my shooting window which to shoot into the feed area was shrinking to the point of being obliterated by the growth that was getting thicker by the season. I figured this stand was pretty much finished as I didn’t have permission to cut the pines and birches that were now blocking my view from twenty five feet up in that big pine. About six inches of snow covered the ground, and not a single deer had passed through the stand of oak where I took that season’s deer.

I walked about a hundred yards beyond the new growth and found a wall of spruce and fir bordering another stand of beech and oak.

The deer were using the conifers as a protective backdrop on their way to a field three hundred yards to the south and the route was heavily traveled. There were rubs from the recent fall all the way to the field and the prevailing winds were in my face. I could come straight in before daylight and not have to worry about being detected by the deer that were most likely bedding on the edge of a field to the north. I studied this area for an hour or so and selected three tall oaks and a pine for possible stands.

The following weekend I packed my self-climber and climbed the trees that I selected the previous week. I selected two of them that gave the best views and the broadest shooting areas and marked them with orange surveyor’s tape. One might think that I had next year’s primary stands wired, but I wasn’t finished just yet. Both of these trees faced east and the rising sun would be hitting me right in the face for most of the morning. On the other side of the trail I found a tall pine facing west, overlooking an open spot that was torn up with last fall’s rubs. Fresh tracks covered this little spot among thick firs. I now had a morning and an evening stand overlooking a major travel route from bedding and feeding areas with relief from the blinding sun.

In late March of this year I spent an afternoon at my new stand site. As I expected, the trail was well worn, and thick with fresh deer droppings. Two distinct sets of large tracks told me that a couple of good bucks were hanging around the neighborhood, allowing me to follow them to a couple of alternate routes that they were using into an excellent ambush for the October bow season. I’ll continue to monitor this area over the summer months. I’ll also climb those trees again in order to see what it’s going be like on opening day, when the beech and oak leaves are full.

I now know where to be on opening day of bow and rifle season and can hunt confidently knowing that I have a good understanding of deer movement in my area. Not a bad find for a few days of scouting shortly after the season closed and again in the spring when it’s great just to be outside in nature.

A Way Of Life

June 18, 2007

As a tagging agent in central Maine I get the opportunity to see what the area is offering for hunting and trapping success. I also get to meet many hunters from around Maine and from far away that come to enjoy what Maine has to offer. Some faces I see every November to tag their deer, and many return with just as big a smile to watch their hunting partner tag their trophy animal. Hunting season creates lifelong friendships, and brings family members together. Time spent in the outdoors offers quality time with loved ones away from the pressures of every day life.

Since I was 14 years old I have looked forward to deer camp, not only for the thrill of the hunt but also to spend time with my older brother Heath. Six years my senior, my brother spent much of our childhood testing by ability to withstand severe beatings and daily humiliations like only an older brother can provide. Throughout the early years I envisioned that one day the beatings would subside but what I didn’t envision is that my brother and I would share a common obsession for the outdoors.

Hunting season allows us to spend time together and share moments that we normally cannot seem to make time for. Sometimes it’s not easy for a grown man to turn to another and say, “ hey, I really care for you brother” but a high five and embrace after a successful shot from a ladder stand on a buck that you have been dogging for the last two weeks, says the same thing. Among hunters there is a universal language. The smiles and congratulatory high fives when someone returns to camp with a successful harvest, says, “Good job, we’re proud of you”. Just as a pat on the back and a shrug of the shoulders after a miss says “nice try, maybe next time friend”.

I am grateful that hunting brought my brother and I together, we will forever share a special bond in the outdoors. Today my brother passes his love for hunting on to his son Hunter and soon to his daughter Hannah. They will share special moments together and form a special bond with their father. I look forward to doing the same with my two sons Dalton and Bryson.

Recently, I became a Registered Maine Guide. I want to share with others what my brother and I have experienced through hunting. It is not about the kill, it is about the experience. It’s about spending time with family and friends in an environment that somehow seems to bring people together like nothing else can. Hunting is an obsession, but a good one. Hunting is a way of life that many of us chose because it is a tool not only for game management but also for life management.

I hope that the tradition of hunting in Maine stays strong and that my sons will share the same bond that my brother and I share. Hunting is a way of life that only those who have experienced it can truly understand it.

Shawn P. Howard
Howard Bros. Guide Service

2007 Maine Moose Lottery Drawing

June 15, 2007

By Thomas K. Remington

Last night Milt Inman (my good friend and photographer) and I traveled down to the tiny Maine town of Phippsburg to attend the annual Maine Moose Lottery at the Phippsburg Elementary School. The event was hosted by the Phippsburg Sportsman’s Club.

We arrived a bit late but there seemed to be a good and enthusiastic crowd on hand to join in the festivities but as usual most where there in hopes of hearing their name read from the list the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife computer randomly spit out.

Crowd Gathered at Moose Lottery
Milt Inman Photo

We had arrived too late to see the announcement of the first winner who was in attendance. As it turns out, he was a member of the local Phippsburg Sportsman’s Club. In an interview being done by one of the local television stations, he said he expected some ribbing because of his organization hosting the event. I apologize that I did not get his name.

The second in attendance to be selected was John Chadbourne from Leeds, Maine. John is a registered Maine Guide. If I heard correctly his guiding business is called Adventure North. This was John’s second selection in the history of the draw. His first came in 2001.

John Chadbourne
Tom Remington Photo – This is John Chadbourne after receiving his t-shirt for being selected and being in attendance.

As luck would have it, also from Leeds and friend of Chadbourne’s, Randall Burgess heard his name called not long after. I believe I overheard him reluctantly telling a member of the local press that this was his fourth time begin selected for a moose hunt.

Randall Burgess
Tom Remington Photo – Randall Burgess walks away from the front of the room after receiving his coveted t-shirt. Well, actually it wasn’t the t-shirt that was most coveted. It was being selected for a moose hunt.

In attendance last night was a few reporters from the television stations – Channel 8 and 13 and members of the press.

Channel 8 and Kalle Oakes
Milt Inman Photo – In this shot, Randall Burgess had just received his prize of being selected and members of the press moved in to get the scoop. In the yellow shirt and back to us is Burgess. On the left if Kalle Oakes, writer for the Lewiston Sun Journal and an unidentified member of the Channel 8 News team. There was also reporters from Channel 13 and the Kennebec Journal.

There were many members and representatives of the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. Many of them worked the crowd, chatting up old times and answering questions as well as participating in the reading of names.

Michael J. Witte
Milt Inman Photo – Michael J. Witte of New Harbor and member of the Advisory Council to the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife.

I got a chance to meet new friends and talk in person to several people whom I had only communicated with either online or by telephone.

Friends Gathered at Moose Drawing
Milt Inman Photo – I am on the far left in this picture. To my left is Wanda Chadbourne. Wanda’s husband John had already been selected tonight and Wanda filled me in on past moose hunts, bear hunts and a host of other activities she and her husband participate in. Next to Wanda is Jack Duggins. I had communicated many times with Jack. He is a registered Maine Guide and operates a business, Mainely Smallmouths, out of Litchfield, Maine. Jack also writes some for Maine Hunting Today and Maine Fishing Today. He is also a staff member. In the far right of the photo and partially cut off is George Smith, Executive Director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine.

After working the crowd and bending a few ears, the reading of names continued. Milt and I decided it was time to begin working our way out the door, which meant working our way back through the crowd.

Just before hitting the exit, I heard them call the name of Bruce Simmons of Andover as a winner of a moose permit. Bruce is my cousin and this would be his first time ever on a moose hunt. I’m sure he was pretty pumped once he heard the news.

On the way out the door, I just couldn’t leave without talking with a couple more people.

Tom Remington, George Smith and Paul Jacques
Milt Inman Photo – Here I am shaking hands with Paul Jacques, Deputy Commissioner of the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. Between us is George Smith, Executive Director for the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine.

Congratulations to all those who were selected for a 2007 Maine moose permit.

Tom Remington