Opinion: Lessons from the killing of a mother bear

The cubs of the black bear killed in Newtown on May 12, were sent to Kilham Bear Center, a licensed wildlife rehabilitation facility in Lyme, N.H.

The cubs of the black bear killed in Newtown on May 12, were sent to Kilham Bear Center, a licensed wildlife rehabilitation facility in Lyme, N.H.

Contributed Photo /CT DEEP

Knowing Bobbi’s cubs are alive and well at the Kilham Bear Center in New Hampshire is comforting after her tragic, unnecessary death on May 12.

Rehabilitator Ben Kilham reports that the two 6-month-old black bear cubs are playing all day with 20 other orphaned cubs. They will be moved from an indoor area to 11 acres of woods enclosed by an electric fence as the cubs continue to grow and learn how to be bears before being released back into the wild.

However, the recent news that Bobbi’s killer, an off-duty Ridgefield police officer, is not being charged with a crime is another distressing calamity. All evidence points to Lawrence Clarke getting away with murder.

It is illegal to kill a black bear in Connecticut. The Department of Energy and Environmental Protection made that clear in a statement to WFSB on July 8, pointing out that black bears are protected in Connecticut and there is no right to kill a bear.

The incident report from DEEP clearly states that Clarke’s son and grandson were safe inside the house when he gunned down Bobbi with his AR-15 rifle. The report describes how Bobbi ran off into the woods after Clarke yelled at her when she first sauntered onto his property.

It is unclear how long it took before Bobbi returned, baited by Clarke’s unfortunate, unprotected chicken coop, allegedly attempting to pull it over. But it is clear that Clarke went in and out of his house multiple times yelling at and confronting Bobbi without ever bothering to call our state wildlife agency as policy stipulates if residents are concerned about encounters with wildlife.

The last time Clarke came out of his house armed with his AR-15, he pursued Bobbi, firing a bullet that hit her in the head. After Bobbi fell to the ground, he finished her off with seven or eight more rounds. This all occurred just 103 yards away from the closest house, which suggests Clarke also violated Newtown’s gun ordinance, which prohibits shooting a gun within 500 feet of another building.

If a person goes into a house to retrieve a gun, it is impossible then for a bear to still be an imminent threat. So, when Clarke came back out and shot Bobbi, he did so illegally. He claimed Bobbi killed three of his unsecured chickens earlier in the week.

What makes animal advocates angry — in addition to justice not being served — is this tragedy was preventable.

Incidents with black bears are almost entirely the result of human actions. But despite advice to the contrary, people still leave food attractants out or fail to secure chicken coops.

Kilham’s largest source of orphan cubs is the result of unprotected chicken coops, as female bears in search of high-quality foods to produce milk for their cubs meet their demise facing a homeowner with a gun. It’s particularly frustrating for Kilham, since chickens can easily be protected with electric fences.

Since there’s been an uptick in people raising backyard chickens during the pandemic, Connecticut’s bears are in more danger than ever. So, if you see something, say something. Make sure your neighbors install and maintain an electric fence around their chicken coop. Experts recommend the following specs for deterring bears: .7 joules; a minimum of 6,000 volts, height of 4 feet or more and five or more wires. Maintenance is key.

Clarke’s failure to have electric fencing up and powered before he got chickens cost Bobbi her life. He has blood on his hands because of his irresponsible behavior.

In addition to protecting chickens, beehives and livestock, using a bear-resistant trash container is a sure-fire way to defeat determined bears. Check with your trash hauler to see if they offer them or to make sure your bear-resistant container is compatible with their equipment.

Not putting trash out until collection time, bringing bird feeders in from March through November, keeping grills clean and not feeding pets outdoors will also help keep bears out of trouble. Do not store food attractants in a screened-in porch — screens don’t keep bears away.

It’s crucial to make bears uncomfortable in your yard with aversive conditioning. Making loud noises, hand clapping and yelling will teach bears to associate humans with danger and leave the area and avoid it in the future. In reports of Bobbi sightings from 2017-2021, many residents reported they were able to scare Bobbi off with air horns, high-pitched whistles and clanging pots and pans.

Hopefully, Connecticut residents can use this tragedy as a teaching moment and change their behaviors to keep bears and humans safe.

Kilham has a saying: “There are no nuisance black bears. Only nuisance humans.”

We couldn’t agree more.

Nicole Rivard is media/government relations manager for Darien-based Friends of Animals. FoA is a member of the CT Coalition to Protect Black Bears. Through educational outreach and legislative advocacy, the coalition promotes proven non-lethal strategies that allow people and Connecticut’s native black bears to safely co-exist. Ctbears.org