SULLIVAN, Maine — Game wardens are searching for one or more marauding bears responsible for killing three goats in three separate raids in Franklin and Sullivan over the past two weeks and which recently tried to break into a barn to get to some horses.
Although Game Warden Dave Simmons came face to face with a culprit early one morning as he drove it from a barn with a piece of wood, he said he was not certain whether they were dealing with one or more bears. He estimated the one he saw weighed about 150 to 200 pounds.
“It’s hard to tell in the dark,” Simmons said Tuesday. “They’re all black with a lot of teeth when you’re face to face.”
The attacks have taken place at three farms within a five- to seven-mile radius of the Hog Bay area between Franklin and Sullivan. That’s within the range of a single bear, he said.
Becka Gagne of Hooper Road in Franklin said she believes it is one bear that is causing the havoc. She said it has come to the house she shares with her husband Jeff Gagne twice in the past month and has killed a goat each time.
“We’ve only had [the goats] for six months,” she said Wednesday. “We were enjoying their milk. We’ve never had livestock before.”
The bear most recently showed up Saturday night, when it forced its way into their barn, according to Gagne. It bypassed their grain room, where they have set out ammonia to keep bears away, and killed a goat that friends had loaned them to keep their goat company ever since the first goat was killed Sept. 19.
“It wasn’t interested in our grain, just the goat,” she said. “It’s definitely developed a taste [for goat meat].”
Their last remaining goat now is being kept at a friend’s house until the bear is dealt with, she said.
Gagne said they tried placing a live bear trap on their property, but the bear stayed away until it was moved to another property where the bear has attacked. She said people whose properties have been targeted by the bear have decided to hire a hunter who will stake out their properties. They have left out the carcass of the goat killed last weekend as bait for the bear.
“At this point, we hope it does come back [and gets shot],” Gagne said. “We’ve got two kids up here. We’re not interested in feeding this bear anymore.”
A bear also killed a goat belonging to Jennifer Menard of Sullivan, according to Warden Simmons.
Simmons said bear attacks on farm animals are not a regular occurrence, but they are not that uncommon either. This is a case where a wild animal is coming into contact with domestic animals, he said.
“Bears don’t play well with others,” he said. “Over the years, we’ve had bears kill pigs and goats and maul horses. Bears often feed on fawns in the springtime — they’ll take a fawn over sweetgrass if they can get it.”
Although the weather is getting colder, bears are still foraging to fatten up for their winter hibernation. They’re drawn to the smells from the barns.
“I’d guess we have a lazy bear,” Simmons said. “He’s drawn by the smell of the domestic feed. That’s hard for him to pass up.”
The bears definitely pose a threat to the farm animals, he said, but said they are not as big a threat to humans.
“Humans are their enemies,” he said. “They don’t like humans, and they don’t like dogs.”
The wardens are working with the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife animal damage control agents in an effort to catch the bear or bears. One of the agents, trapper Bryant Poors, has set up a live barrel trap and has set snares, both nonlethal trapping methods.
Simmons said, however, that the farmers have the legal right to protect their livestock using lethal methods, and some are prepared to take the lethal measures if the bear returns.
The warden advised homeowners to keep windows and doors, including barn doors, closed to prevent curious bears from entering.