Vt. governor outruns a bear, gets away

Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin says he was within “three feet of getting ‘arrrh’” when he was chased back inside his house in Montpelier by one of four bears he was trying to shoo away from his yard. Enlarge photo

TOBY TALBOT/Associated Press file photo

Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin says he was within “three feet of getting ‘arrrh’” when he was chased back inside his house in Montpelier by one of four bears he was trying to shoo away from his yard.

MONTPELIER, Vt. – A late-night encounter with four bears trying to snack from backyard bird-feeders gave Vermont’s governor a lesson in what not to do in bear country.

One of the bears chased Peter Shumlin and nearly caught the governor while he was trying to shoo the animals away, he said Friday.

“I had a close encounter with a bear, four bears to be exact,” Shumlin said.

Shumlin said he had just gone to bed inside his rented home on the edge of Montpelier late Wednesday when the bears woke him up. He looked out the window and saw the bears in a tree about five feet from the house trying to get food from his four bird-feeders.

“I open up the window and yell at them to get away from the bird-feeders. They kind of trot off,” Shumlin said. “I go around to the kitchen to turn the lights on and look from the other side, and they’re back in the bird-feeders. So I figure I’ve got to get the bird-feeders out of there, or they’re going to make this a habit.”

He said he then ran out and first grabbed two of the feeders. As he grabbed the other two and made his escape, “one of the bigger bears was interested in me.”

“It was probably six feet from me before I slammed the door, and it ran the other way,” Shumlin said.

Shumlin said he didn’t stop to get dressed, though he didn’t reveal exactly how little he was wearing.

“I sleep like many Vermont boys, without too much clothing at night. I’m not a big pajama person,” he said. “The bottom line is: The bears were dressed better than I, and they could have done some real damage.”

Shumlin, 56, a first-term Democratic governor from Putney, said he had part of the encounter on video, which he refused to release. He first described the wild encounter in an interview with the editorial board of the Valley News newspaper of Lebanon, N.H. He told the newspaper he was within “three feet of getting ‘arrrh.’”

“The lesson is, as a Vermonter who grew up in this state and should know better, if you’re going to feed birds at this time of year, bring your bird-feeders in at night,” he said.

But Col. David LeCours, Vermont’s chief game warden, said bringing feeders in at night won’t make a difference because the bears will return to eat the bird feed on the ground. The Department of Fish and Wildlife urges homeowners to remove bird-feeders in the spring.

While homeowners like to watch the birds, they don’t need to be fed once the snow melts, LeCours said.

In certain circumstances, such as if someone is deliberately trying to attract bears, people can be fined for keeping feeders out, but that wouldn’t apply in the governor’s case.

“If someone does it inadvertently, there’s no violation of law,” LeCours said.

LeCours said it was likely Shumlin was dealing with a sow and three cubs. He said he’d never heard of a bear chasing after a person with food, but mother bears will protect their young.

“She most likely felt her cubs were being threatened,” LeCours said.