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Co-existing with nature can mean bear encounters

By: Saul Wiseman Special to Home & Garden
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Here in the foothills of Placer County, just north of Auburn, we live with the wild animals, those that roam the rim of the American River Canyon. Even though we are less than a mile from Interstate 80, we often see coyote, deer and turkeys. What we don’t often see are the more elusive creatures — the fox, skunk, raccoon, mountain lion and bear. For almost 14 months I have been keeping chickens, started from day-old chicks bought at a local feed store and grown to beautiful egg-laying birds. We started raising chickens because my wife eats two soft boiled eggs for breakfast each day. We decided to get eggs from our own flock of six hens rather than store bought. A friend loaned us a chicken coop, another friend and I built nesting boxes, and we started raising the birds. My daughter named each of the chickens. She could identify each chicken. During the day, they roamed the fenced chicken pen. At dusk, they returned to roost in the locked coop. Then, the last week in August, one of the elusive creatures appeared. After lunch, I was bringing watermelon rinds to give to the chickens in the pen, a 4-foot high chicken wire enclosing the chicken coop. A bear had easily climbed the chicken wire fence and was seeking a feathered lunch. The birds quickly flew over the fence and found a safe place to hide. We all got excited, shouting and banging pots. But the bear, frustrated at not catching a fowl, stayed in the pen. I called 911 and got the sheriff’s dispatch. Within five minutes, two patrol cars arrived, I led the deputies — each with a rifle in hand — to the chicken coop. By then the bear was hiding on the downhill side of the nesting box. With their rifles loaded, they tried to spot the bear. But the bear was hiding, not giving them a good view. Finally, the bear took off running downhill into the gully below. No shots were fired. Since the bear had done no harm, I was glad it ran away. The deputies, one of them a self-confessed bear hunter, guessed it was a 2-year-old, weighing 175 pounds. Two days later, when no one was home, the young bear returned during the day and ate one of the chickens it had cornered in the coop, leaving only the feet and the backbone. Although family members wanted me to call the sheriff, I refused, not wanting the bear to be killed. The next day, I decided to find a new home for the chickens. A friend of mine who has a farm far from town agreed to take my chickens. The following day the chickens departed. We need to co-exist with the wild creatures because we are living in a shared space.