By Logan Hall
A neighborhood on the East End of Ojai is reeling after a bear was allegedly shot by an area resident according to some locals and the California Department of Fish and Game.
DFG spokesman Andrew Hughan says an unnamed resident near Thacher Road reported that a bear was damaging a chicken coop on their property. After a DFG game warden investigated, Hughan says the property owner was issued a depredation permit by the warden, which allows the resident to kill the bear either by hiring a professional or doing it personally if they have a valid hunting license and are in a rural area.
Hughan says the DFG was called in on Sunday morning when the resident reported having heard a disturbance outside, subsequently exiting the house with a firearm before allegedly firing shots at an unidentified animal. “On Sunday morning,” said Hughan, “someone on the property thought they heard a bear and came out shooting and injured an animal.”
A DFG game warden was again dispatched to investigate the property where animal tracks and evidence of blood were inconclusive. Hughan added that, “The game warden couldn’t determine what kind of bear had been shot or even if there was a bear at all.”
However, the homeowner in question, who requested to remain anonymous, claims to have seen the bear get shot. “I saw the bear,” said the owner of the property. “We are really upset that it had to be injured. We had built what we felt was a really secure coop that had electricity attached at night. We have been here for many years and have never had a problem like this. We did what we could to get the bear to leave us alone.”
Hughan claims the DFG is operating under state law and that state legislation requires DFG field agents to issue depredation permits if they are requested and evidence of injury or property damage can be presented. “We are tied by legislation,” he said. “If someone asks for a permit, we have to issue it.”
Local wildlife advocates believe there are many alternatives to killing an animal and believe that the DFG was wrong in issuing the depredation permit. “An animal shouldn’t die for something that is a person’s fault,” said Sue Williamson, co-founder of the Ojai Wildlife League. “This man still had the same chicken coop after the bear had already gotten to it a few times. We want to educate people that if they have something that is attracting unwanted wildlife, they need to fix the problem.”
Hughan says that bears don’t intentionally harm people or their property, but certain things are more likely to attract animals like bears. “The bears are just doing what bears do,” he said. “They’re looking for food. People really need to clean up their trash and never leave food lying around. Chicken coops are just setting up a live table for the bear.”
Williamson echoes Hughan’s thoughts on the matter. “It’s like putting out bait and then shooting the animal that shows up to get it,” said Williamson. “It was unacceptable for them to shoot the bear when they wouldn’t fix their coop.”
Williamson also believes that the DFG could have done more to prevent the alleged shooting. “We have a big bone to pick with the DFG,” she said. “They shouldn’t have given them a depredation permit. They screwed up and we’re going to let them know about it.”
Hughan, although not addressing Williamson’s concerns specifically, said that DFG personnel really care about the animals and never want to see something like this happen. “The last thing in the world that any DFG employee wants to do is destroy an animal,” said Hughan. “Sometimes it happens and it’s a sad and unfortunate part of the job. When public safety is an issue though, that comes first.”
One neighbor of the property in question, who also requested to remain anonymous, believes that more could have been done to prevent the alleged shooting. “We live in a place that’s along a wildlife corridor,” said the neighbor. “When the bears don’t have any food, you can’t expect them not to take advantage of something like a chicken coop. They know they made a mistake though.”
The resident who allegedly shot the bear hopes that other people can learn from the experience and help prevent similar situations in the future. “We now have better ideas on how to secure our chicken coop,” said the property owner. “We want to live here in harmony with the bears, but I also want to protect my home and pets and family. We will use Sue’s (Williamson) guidelines and see if we can prevent any more incidents. We are not bear haters.”
For information on proper ways to prevent bears from entering a property, contact the Ojai Wildlife League at 640-0187 (also see Williamson’s guest editorial on Page A5).