Vermont Fish & Wildlife Opposes Petition to Prohibit the Killing of Black Bear Sows with Cubs

Hear the petition to prohibit the killing of sows with cubs at minute 13:00 of the April 26, 2023 Fish & Wildlife Board meeting.

On April 26, 2023, the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department (VFW) addressed a petition at a Fish & Wildlife Board meeting requesting that state bear hunting regulations be amended to include a restriction on the killing of black bear sows with cubs. The March 8th petition was presented by Andrew Phelan, a Mad River Valley, Vermont landowner who’s front door camera captured images of a bear hunter in October 2022 killing a bear sow with two cubs. At least one of the cubs later died of starvation.

In his petition, Phelan states, “Deliberately killing a mother with cubs is cruel. In most cases, and as clearly demonstrated here, it leaves the orphaned cubs extremely vulnerable to suffering a prolonged and painful death from exposure, starvation, or predators. A regulation that bars deliberately killing mother bears with cubs, together with mandatory bear education that includes cub dependence and other salient bear/cub information would, every year spare dozens of helpless cubs the cruelty and pain the cub here suffered, require no substantial expenditure of money or time, and likely have broad support across Vermont, from both hunters and non-hunters alike.”

VFW’s Director of Wildlife, Mark Scott responded negatively to the petition, stating in an email, “The Fish & Wildlife Department recommended to the Fish & Wildlife Board to reject the petition to outlaw the shooting of sows with cubs because we feel that a regulation of this type will have little effect to protect bear family units. The Department for many years has strongly encouraged hunters to not shoot a sow if they see it with cubs. We have educated hunters for years on this subject. We currently have no data on sows harvested with cubs.”

The Fish & Wildlife Board agreed to table the petition until Fall 2023 when VFW could make a bear management presentation to the board and then consider any changes to current bear hunting regulations in Vermont. Scott stated that Vermont’s bear population is “stable for the last ten years and its fluctuating at numbers…that its higher than our overall goal that we set in the 10 year Big Game Plan that’s 3,500 to 5,500…We don’t know how many sows are getting shot out there with cubs.” Scott argued that its possible for a hunter to shoot a sow and not know she has cubs and that he personally doesn’t know any hunters that would willingly shoot a sow with cubs.

The petition to end the killing of sows with cubs and Vermont Fish & Wildlife Board meeting minutes.

Despite the presentation of clear evidence from the Mad River Valley incident that bear hunters in Vermont do indeed shoot sows with cubs because it is not prohibited, VFW is arguing that there is not enough data to warrant a bear hunting rule change and that further education, not regulations are more effective at preventing the intentional killing of sows with cubs. Current text in Vermont’s bear hunting rules state, “the Department recommends not shooting sows accompanied by cubs or a bear that is part of a group of bears as bears seen together in the fall are most likely a female accompanied by her cubs.”

Other text in bear regulations urges hunters to be ethical and humane, including to spare sows because the “cubs are still dependent on their mothers this time of year and will stay with her until the following spring.” As the 2022 Mad Valley River incident proves, these recommendations can be legally disregarded by hunters. The Mad River Valley hunter showed nothing but contempt for the Department’s recommendations and appeal to humane hunting. As long as the killing of sows with cubs is simply discouraged and remains legal, many unethical hunters will continue these types killings.

In Vermont, all purchasers of a deer hunting license are also given a permit to kill black bear at no additional cost. This practice means that while deer hunting in Vermont, a licensed hunter encountering black bear can legally attempt to kill the animal, despite knowing how to sex a bear, proper shot placement or being aware of bear biology and the likely close proximity of cubs with sows. VFW’s opposition to the petition to ban the shooting of sows with cubs can be seen as an endorsement of the practice as well as further evidence that as long as black bear as a species are abundant in Vermont, individual concern is misplaced for sows that are actually killed while accompanied by cubs.

Please join Vermont Wolf Patrol in calling for a prohibition on the killing of black bear sows with cubs. Many states have already adopted such rules and such prohibitions would increase tolerance of bear hunting practices in Vermont, rather than creating more opponents to the practice as a whole, because of VFW’s refusal to forward petitions by citizens opposed to controversial hunting practices such as the killing of sows with cubs.

Vermont’s current bear hunting regulations do not prohibit the killing of black bear mothers with cubs.

Please contact Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department Director of Wildlife, Mark Scott and ask that the department support the petition to prohibit the killing of black bear sows with cubs!