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Lt. Douglas Gralenski: (603) 271-3361
Liza Poinier: (603) 271-3211
August 18, 2004

Shelburne Man Convicted in Shooting of Backyard Bear

CONCORD, N.H. -- Shelburne resident Jocelyn Labonville was convicted August 17 in Gorham District Court of a Class B misdemeanor for the out-of-season shooting of a black bear in his backyard in June. "This case helps define what responsibilities we, as residents living in bear habitat, have in reducing bear/human conflicts," said Lt. Doug Gralenski of the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department. "Black bears and other wildlife are a priceless resource for our state and add greatly to our quality of life. We need to respect their wildness and let them find food in their natural environment."

According to Lt. Gralenski, the shooting occurred after Mr. Labonville complained twice to Fish and Game staff that a black bear was raiding his backyard birdfeeders. (Fish and Game recommends that birdfeeders be removed by April 1 and not put up until the onset of winter.) On the evening of June 14, Gralenski received a call from Labonville complaining that a bear was raiding his birdfeeders. Labonville also expressed concern for the safety of his grandchildren. Gralenski explained that the birdfeeders were the root cause of the problem; he advised Labonville to stop feeding the birds, saying: "Remove the attractant and the bear problem should go away." Additionally, Gralenski told Labonville that Nancy Comeau, one of Fish and Game's Bear Conflict Resolution Officers, would visit the residence to evaluate the cause of the complaint.

Labonville evidently refused to stop putting birdfeeders out; he called a second time two days later to announce the bear's return. This call was fielded by Fish and Game's Bear Project Leader, Andrew Timmins, who also recommended to Mr. Labonville that he put away the birdfeeders. Timmins advised that Nancy Comeau was en route to the Labonville residence and would be there shortly. Before Comeau arrived for her visit, Labonville shot and killed the bear while it fed at his birdfeeder. "Birdseed is not birdseed to a bear, it's bear seed," said Gralenski. "The case boils down to this: if you insist on feeding birds or purposely create a situation that attracts bears, you can't just kill that bear."

Labonville was charged with taking wildlife during a closed season and convicted of a Class B misdemeanor. He was fined $200 plus a $40 penalty assessment, and will lose his hunting license for one year. The trial's lead prosecutor was Conservation Officer Kevin Jordan. Expert witnesses at the trial included Lt. Gralenski, Timmins and Comeau, in addition to Conservation Officer Michael Matson.

Several states, including Vermont, New York and Pennsylvania, currently have specific laws prohibiting direct and indirect feeding of black bears. The New Hampshire Fish and Game Department is researching such legislation, but has not yet formally proposed rules regarding the feeding of black bears. Many New Hampshire residents are aware of Fish and Game's efforts to minimize bear/human conflicts through the public education campaign, "Something's Bruin in New Hampshire: Learn to Live With Bears." Department staff members invest considerable time and resources in this campaign with the intent to increase the public's understanding of and tolerance toward bears.

Current laws regarding the protection of property from animal damage give New Hampshire homeowners the right to dispatch bears that are "causing substantial property damage." "A bear being shot as it raids a backyard birdfeeder does not meet the intent of the property damage law," stated Lt. Gralenski. "Of course we recognize an individual's right to protect himself, but this right does not extend to an individual's right to kill any animal that is knowingly attracted to that property." This case is the first of its kind in New Hampshire to address this issue, and will likely set a precedent regarding what constitutes wildlife damage.

Timmins, a wildlife biologist, urges New Hampshire residents to limit their birdfeeding to winter months -- December through March -- when bears are hibernating. "A birdfeeder is really a wildlife feeder," he said. "If you leave birdseed out for birds, or if you leave dog food out for your dog, or if you don't secure your garbage, the wildlife will visit, and it doesn't always turn out well for you or the wildlife."

The New Hampshire Fish and Game Department is the guardian of the state's fish, wildlife and marine resources. For more information on preventing conflicts with black bears, click here for Frequently Asked Questions about black bears in New Hampshire. People with questions about bear-related problems can get advice by calling a toll-free number coordinated jointly by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Wildlife Services and the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department: 1-888-749-2327 (1-888-SHY-BEAR).

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