By Andy Phelan

On an October evening several weeks ago, a motion-activated video camera in the Mad River Valley captured a mother black bear with two young cubs playing and moving across a field to eat under an apple tree about 75 feet away. They feed for a while, the cubs playing, the mother constantly scanning. They are close together, clearly a family group. The mother and cubs start to move off. Just after they leave the video to the left, a hunter enters the video from the right, about 30 feet away. He aims and shoots the bear, then drags dead mother bear behind his truck before loading it. Three weeks later, at a nearby stream, a neighbor finds one of the cubs, dead from starvation. The other cub is never seen again.


Thinking this must be wrong, I look up the law, which troubles me more. It makes killing a mother bear with cubs lawful with a tepid “recommendation” against doing so. It says, in full: “We recommend that you do not shoot a bear with cubs.” I do not oppose reasonable and ethical hunting. This was neither. Nor was it sporting or honorable. Deliberately killing a mother knowing it has cubs leaves the cubs to suffer for weeks as they starve to death. I spoke with an officer and a board member from VT Fish & Wildlife. I also spoke with a few hunters and others interested in Vermont wildlife. Without exception, everyone I spoke with said they were troubled and thought this killing was cruel and unethical.

The regulation does nothing to protect vulnerable cubs. The hunting laws do not sanction shooting does with fawns or ducks or geese with ducklings or goslings. The designated hunting seasons for those species largely protect those young because they are expected to be weaned and independent by the time their hunting seasons open. Bear cubs are usually born during the first few months of a year and stay with their mothers about 16-17 months. As a result, they stay with their mothers through at least one bear-hunting season. That season in Vermont this year ran from September 1 to November 20. Such cubs are not yet ready to fend for themselves, as the starved dead cub found here demonstrates. 

I will petition the rule-making body — the board of VT Fish & Wildlife -- to change its regulation to prohibit deliberately killing a sow with cubs. I would hope that other folks in the community — including hunters — support this change. I am told by others that even such a seemingly simple change may not be easy at all. To that end, I urge anyone troubled by this killing and the law that allows it to contact their local elected representatives. The elected state legislators for the Mad River Valley can be found here: Let them know your views on it.

Phelan lives in Fayston.