BANGOR – Game Warden Jim Fahey was thrust into a situation Saturday morning that required a judgment call. Fahey’s judgment told him to shoot and kill a disoriented black bear that got lost and wandered into a crowded Bangor neighborhood.
His decision sparked a firestorm on the Bangor Daily News Web site with many readers questioning the warden’s judgment. A Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife spokeswoman said Monday that Fahey followed policy to a T.
“We understand people’s concerns, but public safety was tantamount,” Deborah Turcotte said in a telephone interview. “The bear was lost, agitated, it was not staying in one place. A decision had to be made in the best interest of the public.”
Fahey went to the area of Fairmount Park early Saturday after public safety officials received numerous calls from people who spotted the bear wandering through the neighborhood.
The bear was seen near Interstate 395, then Bangor Municipal Golf Course before it made its way to the area of Norway and Royal roads. By that time, a large crowd of people had gathered to watch the bear’s movements. When Fahey arrived, the 150-pound adult bear had become wildly unpredictable, Turcotte said.
“This is a case where the bear was running scared. Anything could have happened,” she said. “If this happened in the City Forest, it would have been a much different situation.”
Some BDN readers questioned Fahey’s tactics, even going so far as to say that the bear was murdered. Other readers defended the warden for making a difficult decision. Most comments amounted to Monday morning quarterbacking, but readers brought up this subject the most: Why didn’t Fahey use a tranquilizer gun instead of his warden-issued shotgun?
Turcotte explained that game wardens in Maine don’t carry tranquilizers, particularly since the 1990s when federal regulations tightened in an effort to curb thefts of the powerful drugs. If tranquilizers are needed, game wardens typically coordinate with other public safety officials.
Norma Worley, director of Maine’s Animal Welfare Program, said her office doesn’t get involved in cases like this and she deferred to DIF&W officials.
“I will say that I don’t think a lot of people realize that if you tranquilize an animal, it doesn’t just fall over,” she said. “It can sometimes take up to 45 minutes [to subdue the animal], and in that time it could become even more dangerous.”
It’s also possible the bear could have been trapped, but Fahey, a veteran warden, chose to put the bear down rather than risk capturing it. Turcotte stressed that wardens like Fahey are well-trained and qualified to make decisions that balance animal welfare with public safety. She said the warden’s conduct would not be investigated.
While Saturday’s incident is rare, Turcotte said large-animal sightings can be common. She cautioned Mainers to keep an eye out for bears, which typically are lured to neighborhoods by bird feeders or garbage cans.
“If you happen to see a bear, go inside. Don’t cross a bear’s path. If you see a bear in your backyard, don’t go outside to take a picture,” she said.
She also said ammonia or bleach could be spilled around bird feeders, which will deter bears.
Turcotte said Fahey would not be available for comment on Monday. Attempts to reach him at his home were unsuccessful.