Three bears legally killed north of Camp Richardson

Two bear cubs smelled raw chicken and apples, climbed into a long steel tube to get at the food, and a spring-loaded door snapped shut behind them Monday morning north of Camp Richardson.

Their mother stood next to the trap on the deck of Spring Creek Tract cabin and wailed for her soon-to-be cubs.

Two employees from the El Dorado County Agriculture Department arrived, shot the sow dead, and loaded her fat-for-winter body into a pickup. Then they hitched the trap to their truck and rushed back to Highway 89.

"There was $2,000 worth of damage in the (cabin)," said one trapper as his partner hitched the trap. The man would not identify himself, but spoke openly of his job. Bear blood dried on his right hand and wrist, and a member of the BEAR League watched the scene with horror.

"We have a depredation permit. This is legal and lawful. So we took the bears. Do you guys ever get the whole story? All you guys ever print is 'Poor little bear,'" he said holding up a photo of a kitchen trashed by a bear.

The incident took place near a cabin on U.S. Forest Service land called Spring Creek Tract. All three bears were eventually killed legally with a permit issued by the California Department of Fish and Game.

A South Lake Tahoe couple contacted the El Dorado County Department of Agriculture to do the work. Fish and Game issues the permit, but leaves it up to the owner or another party to execute it. The trap was set Friday.

John and Kay Henderson requested the permit after they found a sliding deadbolt on their back door had been smashed, their kitchen ransacked for sweets, and bear feces on top of their toilet and on two places on their living room rug.

After the trappers had gone at about 10 a.m., the couple, both 57, sat in the living room of the cabin, glassy-eyed, but not happy or sad.

Kay Henderson said, "I remain convinced we did the right thing."

Earlier, she explained their position.

"We freely admit we did have food in the house," she said. "It is our feeling we should not have to remove the food from our house. This is human territory. If you leave food outside, I beg to differ-- that's asking for it."

John Henderson said in the roughly 50 years his family has had at the cabin, last week was the first damage incident, even though a cabin 50 yards behind theirs was broken into at least twice in the fall 2000.

"As long as the bear population is increasing, bears are an increasing problem," he said.

Fish and Game spokesman Patrick Foy said that in the last 10 days, the agency investigated three calls and issued one permit -- the Hendersons' -- at Spring Creek Tract.

In one case, a bear and two cubs appeared on a deck. Residents, fearing for the safety of their children, requested a permit, but it was denied. The other report involved a piece of plywood that was ripped from some part a cabin.

The incident at the Hendersons' cabin was more serious and likely involved the bear relying on learned behavior to break the bolt, Foy said.

"We had property damage plus forcible entry to a house through a locked door," he said.

Bear wardens in California and Nevada use techniques to chase them off before any permit to kill is issued. But when public safety is threatened or major property damage occurs, bears die.

"If they break into a house, and I know which bear it is, yeah, it's a dead bear," said Carl Lackey, biologist at Nevada Division of Wildlife.

The cubs caught Monday were killed because keeping them caged until a place is found for them is not realistic, Foy said.

"You can't really go catch bear and finds zoos for them because every zoo that wants a bear has a bear," Foy said. "And when you have the mother taking cubs into a house and essentially teaching them where to find food, you have a perpetual problem."

The BEAR League had a representative at the scene. Mary Kay, 60, of South Lake Tahoe, heard the trappers shoot the sow. Kay shook and was in tears when the bears were carted away.

"This was a morning I hoped I'd never have to be part of. It was horror," she said. "What I saw today, no one ever should have to witness. I know this bear."


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