By ELIZABETH Gribkoff
The recent destruction of a car by a bear in Warren is another sign that human-bear encounters are on the rise, wildlife officials say.
State game warden Sgt. Chad Barrett received a call at around midnight on July 19 that a black bear had broken into a parked car in a driveway near the Green Mountain National Forest.
The homeowners, who the warden declined to name for privacy reasons, noticed the bear when they went to investigate why their car horn was honking, Barrett said in an interview Monday.
When Barrett approached the car, he noticed that the windows were rolled down and there were scratches on the rear driver’s side door — indicating that the bear had opened the door and climbed in, he said. The paw prints on the fogged-up windows indicated the bear was still inside.
He could see that the interior of the car was destroyed, with seats torn down to the metal frames. “It literally ripped the foam off the passenger’s side dashboard,” Barrett said.
On his way to the scene, Barrett said he hoped he could remove the bear from the car with a rope and scare the animal off with rubber bullets.
However, when he reached the house, the extensive damage to the car compounded with the fact that the bear had broken into a car with its windows up indicated the animal had become emboldened.
He had also learned that the bear had been seen multiple times in the neighborhood and had broken into a neighbor’s chicken coop — foretelling future, potentially more dangerous, encounters.
“What’s going to happen if it’s sitting in the backseat and someone jumps into their car in the morning,” he said. “That’s not going to be good.”
Barrett waited until the bear was against a car window and shot his gun through the glass, killing the 250-pound male.
Residents should notify the state’s Fish and Wildlife Department as soon as a bear is spotted in a residential area, said Barrett. The car break-in was caused by “a bear who had been habituated because people had not contacted us or tried to do something quick enough.” The car owners had left a watermelon and a banana in their car, which could have attracted the bear.
The Warren incident was not the only unwanted human and bear encounter in Vermont this summer. A Pownal woman awakened one night in July to find a bear in her kitchen that had smelled a honeycomb she had left out. A hotel manager at Killington’s North Star lodge was surprised by a bear strolling down the hallway in the afternoon. The number of bear complaints filed with the department has increased for the past 10 years, said department spokesperson Tom Rogers.
The majority of the state’s bears are found near the spine of the Green Mountains and in the Northeast Kingdom. The department’s 10-year management plan sets the target bear population at 4,500 to 6,000; there are currently are over 7,000 bears roaming around Vermont, said Rogers.
Department officials hope to change human behavior that draws bears toward backyards and homes. Increasing popularity of bird feeding and backyard beekeeping and chicken raising are likely contributing to the rise in human-bear encounters, noted Rogers.
Relocating bears that have already developed a taste for human food “is really just moving the problem,” he said. “There’s nowhere you can put a bear in Vermont that it won’t find a backyard within six hours.”