The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

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April 13, 2012

Today's Talker: Vermont governor chased by 4 bears in backyard

MONTPELIER, Vt. — A late-night encounter with four bears trying to snack from backyard birdfeeders gave Vermont’s governor a lesson in what not to do in bear country.

One of the bears chased Peter Shumlin and nearly caught the governor while he was trying to shoo the animals away, he said Friday.

“I had a close encounter with a bear, four bears to be exact,” Shumlin said.

Shumlin said he had just gone to bed inside his rented home on the edge of Montpelier late Wednesday when the bears woke him up. He looked out the window and saw the bears in a tree about five feet from the house trying to get food from his four birdfeeders.

“I open up the window and yell at them to get away from the birdfeeders. They kind of trot off,” Shumlin said Friday. “I go around to the kitchen to turn the lights on and look from the other side and they’re back in the birdfeeders. So I figure I’ve got to get the birdfeeders out of there or they’re going to make this a habit.”

He said he then ran out and first grabbed two of the feeders. As he grabbed the other two and made his escape, “one of the bigger bears was interested in me.”

“It was probably six feet from me before I slammed the door and it ran the other way,” Shumlin said.

Shumlin said he didn’t stop to get dressed, though he didn’t reveal exactly how little he was wearing.

“I sleep like many Vermont boys, without too much clothing at night. I’m not a big pajama person,” he said. “The bottom line is: The bears were dressed better than I and they could have done some real damage.”

Shumlin, 56, a first term Democratic governor from Putney, said he had part of the encounter on video, which he refused to release. He first described the wild encounter in an interview with the editorial board of the Valley News newspaper of Lebanon, N.H. He told the newspaper he was within “three feet of getting ‘arrrh.”’

“The lesson is as a Vermonter who grew up in this state and should know better, if you’re going to feed birds at this time of year, bring your birdfeeders in at night,” he said.

But Col. David LeCours, Vermont’s chief game warden, said bringing feeders in at night won’t make a difference because the bears will return to eat the birdfeed on the ground. The Department of Fish and Wildlife urges homeowners to remove birdfeeders in the spring.

While homeowners like to watch the birds, they don’t need to be fed once the snow melts, LeCours said.

In certain circumstances, such as if someone is deliberately trying to attract bears, people can be fined for keeping feeders out, but that wouldn’t apply in the governor’s case.

“If someone does it inadvertently, there’s no violation of law,” LeCours said.

LeCours said it was likely Shumlin was dealing with a sow with three cubs. He said he’d never heard of a bear chasing after a person with food, but mother bears will protect their young.

“She most likely felt her cubs were being threatened,” LeCours said.

 

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