Tahoe City sow dies after man shoots at animal | SierraSun.com

Tahoe City sow dies after man shoots at animal

Joanna Hartman
Sierra Sun

Alex Close/Sierra SunJoel Avery and Ann Bryant of the BEAR League help California Fish and Game Warden Richard Vincent search a dead bear for a bullet wound after the bear died early Tuesday when a Tahoe City man shot at it with a .22 caliber rifle and the bear fell from the tree.

Early Tuesday morning a small, 6-month-old black bear scuffled up a Tahoe City pine tree and howled.

The young cub, weighing an estimated 40 pounds, was crying because its mother lay dead in the back of a pickup truck after a Mackinaw Road homeowner shot at the sow in the middle of the night.

Michael Babcock said he’s been in the Tahoe area for 30-plus years and has had particular trouble with bears on his property this summer. When he woke up early Tuesday to watch the lunar eclipse, he heard rustling in his back yard.

He said a bear came to his deck and he hollered at it to get away.

“It looked like they were casing [the house] and trying to get in,” he said.

With the sky still dark around 5 a.m., Babcock said he fired one shot at the bear, which had climbed into a tree behind his house.

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Babcock said he suspected he scared the bear out of the tree, and when it fell the bear broke its neck and died. He said he couldn’t believe that he could have killed the bear with the gunshot.

“It’s a little .22-caliber, a little tiny pop gun,” he said. “I couldn’t have possibly shot that thing.”

He said he didn’t realize the bear had a cub until Placer County Sheriff’s deputies arrived on scene.

“I didn’t know there was a cub there. But it makes sense ” he was teaching him to get garbage,” he said.

But BEAR League representatives are skeptical of Babcock’s story. Executive Director Ann Bryant said not only are bears equipped to hold tightly to trees, but that the 175-pound nursing bear was unlikely to be rummaging for trash.

“She’s not a garbage bear or she’d be huge and fat,” Bryant said. “Bears don’t just fall out of trees and break their necks.”

Placer deputies, along with personnel with Placer County Animal Control, California Department of Fish and Game, joined the BEAR League’s Bryant and several neighbors Tuesday at the scene of the early morning incident.

Fish and Game Patrol Lt. Richard Vincent interviewed Babcock and confiscated the gun and samples of ammunition. Vincent said he will take the evidence, along with the bear, back to the department lab for investigation.

Vincent did not cite Babcock on the scene, saying he couldn’t find a gunshot wound on the dead bear.

“I don’t see anything that shows me this bear was actually hit by a bullet. But a .22-caliber shoots a very tiny hole,” Vincent said.

He said it could take several weeks to complete the investigation.

Officials will determine whether the bear died directly from Babcock’s gunshot, from a tree fall or from other causes. Babcock could face charges of illegally killing a bear, discharging a firearm within 150 yards of an occupied dwelling or hunting at night ” all misdemeanor charges, Vincent said.

The state Fish and Game department will prepare the report and turn its findings over to the Placer County District Attorney’s office for review.

As for the cub, Bryant said it is a good candidate for rehab. But under the orders of the California Department of Fish and Game, the wildlife organization must return the cub to the state agency once it is captured.

The baby bear was last seen running toward the Tahoe City Golf Course.

“Any kind of people around will keep him, or her, up the tree. Which means he’s still wild ” not a garbage bear,” said BEAR League field representative Joel Avery of the orphaned cub.