Bird feeders root cause of bear shooting in Athol, says MassWildlife

One of the bear cubs captured by Athol Animal Control Officer Jen Arsenault following an incident on Thursday, June 6, in which the mother was shot and killed on Cottage Street. The four cubs are being cared for at Kilham Bear Center in New Hampshire.

One of the bear cubs captured by Athol Animal Control Officer Jen Arsenault following an incident on Thursday, June 6, in which the mother was shot and killed on Cottage Street. The four cubs are being cared for at Kilham Bear Center in New Hampshire. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

MassWildlife has said that bird feeders are the likely reason why a bear wandered onto a property on Cottage Street and broke into a chicken coop, which led to the bear being shot. The bear’s four cubs were captured a few days later by Athol Animal Control.

MassWildlife has said that bird feeders are the likely reason why a bear wandered onto a property on Cottage Street and broke into a chicken coop, which led to the bear being shot. The bear’s four cubs were captured a few days later by Athol Animal Control. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

The four bear cubs orphaned after their mother was shot and killed in Athol last Thursday are being cared for at the Kilham Bear Center in New Hampshire, which cares for abandoned and orphaned black bear cubs.

The four bear cubs orphaned after their mother was shot and killed in Athol last Thursday are being cared for at the Kilham Bear Center in New Hampshire, which cares for abandoned and orphaned black bear cubs. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

By GREG VINE

For the Athol Daily News

Published: 06-11-2024 1:56 PM

ATHOL – The public is encouraged to take down bird feeders, as the public feeding of wildlife is the likely cause of last Thursday’s bear shooting in Athol, according to MassWildlife.

Four bear cubs were orphaned as a result of the shooting, which took place on June 6, when their mother was shot and killed by a Cottage Street resident as she was breaking into a chicken coop, said Dave Wattles, Black Bear and Furbearer Project Leader for MassWildlife. He said the cubs appeared to be about 6 months old and the mother was at least 6 years old and likely had other litters of cubs.

“Last Thursday morning,” Wattles explained, “I got a call from the Environmental Police, saying they were responding to a residence where the mother bear had been shot and that there were four cubs on the scene.”

Wattles said the resident doesn’t face any charges in connection with the shooting.

“There is a law in Massachusetts that allows a property owner to kill an animal that’s causing property damage,” he said. “Unfortunately, that orphans the cubs.”

He said that the cubs were initially seen in a tree on the property. Activity on the scene prompted the cubs to seek safety in another tree near thick wetlands. After he arrived, Wattles and another MassWildlife employee left briefly to get some equipment to capture the cubs, but by the time they got back, the animals had disappeared into dense wetlands.

“Because of the situation, we decided we weren’t going to set traps at that location, figuring they would just pop up again shortly,” Wattles said.

On Friday afternoon, Athol Police reported to Wattles that the cubs had been spotted in a tree not far from Cottage Street. He contacted Athol Animal Control Officer Jen Arsenault as she was driving to the cubs.

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“I gave her permission to get ahold of the cubs if she could,” he said. “One was on the ground at the base of the tree. She was actually able to grab that one cub and put it in a dog carrier.”

Wattles said he gave Arsenault permission to set traps to capture the other cubs, who had run from the area. Two cubs were secured Saturday morning, and the fourth captured in the afternoon. Wattles said the cubs were first transferred to Tufts Wildlife Clinic, “which is basically the only place in the state where we’ll send bear cubs. They sort of triage them, stabilize them until they go up to the rehabilitator, the Kilham Bear Center in New Hampshire.”

According to the center’s website, its mission is to “rescue, rehabilitate and release orphaned, abandoned, and injured black bear cubs.”

Wattles went on to explain the cubs “would have been born in the den in mid-January.” Asked if they could have survived on their own in the wild, he said, “Probably not yet. They were getting there. Early July is often when we will not attempt to intervene because the cubs are larger; there’s more natural food available, there are berries out there, the mother has shown them how to find more food.”

However, said Wattles, one of the cubs “was still very small, only four pounds. Quite frankly, it probably wouldn’t have survived even with mom. It was substantially smaller than the other cubs. I haven’t gotten the weight on the other cubs from Tufts, but they were two to three times larger when I first saw them. Now, the best chance of survival for them is certainly going to the rehabilitation center in New Hampshire.”

According to Wattles, the cubs will remain at the center until early next year. He added that there has been a great deal of concern for the cubs on the North Quabbin Regional Animal Control’s Facebook page.

“It’s a horrible incident. But the root cause of it is the public continually feeding bears,” he said. “We beg people to take in their bird feeders, secure their trash and other things. It’s those food sources that led to this happening.

“The bird feeders basically train bears to come to peoples’ backyards to find food. And when they’re there, they do things like break into chicken coops and cause other property damage and someone ends up shooting them. So, you end up with a situation like this. This had the best outcome possible after the female had been shot, but this is an important message for the public. I guarantee some of these people who are commenting about this have bird feeders out and I really need the public to understand we need them to take that message seriously about not providing free meals to bears.”

Greg Vine can be reached at gvineadn@aol.com.