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Expert: 'We Simply Do Not Have Bears Attacking People In Vermont'

Gillian Stippa
Vt. Dept. Fish & Wildlife
This young black bear was seen searching for food in southern Vermont earlier this year. Bear attacks are very uncommon in the state.

After a hunting cabin burned to the ground on Georgia Mountain last night, reports of a bear attack were widespread, but police haven’t found any evidence to substantiate those claims, and a state wildlife biologist said bear attacks in Vermont are extremely rare.

According to WCAX, police reported that 44-year-old Ladonna Merriman and 28-year-old Lucas Gingras were hospitalized after the cabin fire, Merriman with serious injuries.

But in a press release, Milton Police said the initial investigation “by Milton Police and Vermont Fish and Wildlife wardens could not substantiate the report that Merriman and Gingras were attacked by a bear.”

Forrest Hammond, the black bear program leader for the Vermont Department of Fish and Wildlife, said bear attacks in Vermont are very rare.

Hammond said he cannot comment on the Georgia Mountain case because it is still under investigation, but it has been “several years” since a person was injured by a bear in Vermont.

When bears do hurt people, Hammond said, “it’s usually a case of someone getting between the bear and its escape route.”

One common example, he said, is a person walking into their garage and startling a bear inside.

“The bear pretty much runs them over trying to escape, and they get some claw marks on them and it gets reported as a bear attack,” he said.

Bears, Hammond said, hardly ever attack unprovoked.

“We simply do not have bears attacking people, trying to kill people at all,” he said. “We only know of one historical mortality on a person from a bear, and that was in 1943 in Townsend.”

In that case, a hunter shot and wounded a bear then tried to “finish off the bear with his knife.” The bear killed the hunter and ran away.

Hammond also offered some tips for Vermonters if they come across bears.

At home:

  • “If it’s outside of a building, say, on your lawn, the best thing you could do is try to make some noise to scare the bear away – let the bear know that it’s not welcome in your back yard.”
  • “It’s probably there because it smells some kind of food attractant and after the bear does leave, take down your bird feeder or try to secure any other thing that might have attracted the bear.”

In the woods:

  • “Certainly if it’s in the woods in its natural environment, the best thing would be just to stand there, let the bear know you’re there, talk in a normal voice, and the bear should just leave.”
  • “The great majority of a time that you might encounter bear, you would never know it. The bear will hear or smell you coming and will hide and leave the area.”
  • “Bears in Vermont have a natural fear of people, and we just don’t have bears being aggressive toward people in the state of Vermont.”

The Department of Fish and Wildlife also offers a number of guides for safely living in areas around bears on its bear incident reporting page.

Taylor was VPR's digital reporter from 2013 until 2017. After growing up in Vermont, he graduated with at BA in Journalism from Northeastern University in 2013.
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