Truth of ‘A Fed Bear Is a Dead Bear’ hits home

  • Finn Myggen with the bear trap that was placed in his driveway by wildlife officials. [photo by Patric Hedlund]

    Finn Myggen with the bear trap that was placed in his driveway by wildlife officials. [photo by Patric Hedlund]

By Patric Hedlund

It was announced on a local internet chatboard this week that a mother bear had been killed and a cub left alone, without its mother. The report was not accurate, but angry posts flamed—using purple prose and threats of violence—against a local family who had already suffered having their home and car broken into by two bears.

350-Pound Male Bear

Here is the verified story.

Greg Gerstenberg, Senior Wildlife Biologist for the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) has confirmed that a 350-pound male bear was captured by USDA trappers November 4 on Juniper Court in the Pine Mountain community.

This bear and an estimated 250-pound companion raided the home of Finn and Carol Myggen several times over four days, beginning November 1. Gerstenberg confirms that the second bear was likely two or three years old. It was not a cub.

That misinformation came about when a sheriff’s deputy (who is not a trained wildlife biologist) made an assumption and put it into his official report, which was then repeated by his sergeant in print in this newspaper and elsewhere.

“The 350-pound male was clearly not a sow, and the other one was not a cub,” Gerstenberg said pointedly. “What we all need to remember is what led up to this death. It didn’t happen overnight. This  bear was many months to years in developing this behavior.

“When a few people in the community did things that caused these bears to be attracted to houses for food as cubs or yearlings, they lost their fear of humans. It is a long process, in stepping stones, as they get more bold and go further. Bears figure out that walls can’t stop them.”

Walls can’t stop them

Finn Myggen is not a newbie or a ‘flatlander.’ He says his house on Juniper Court and the family’s practice of keeping trash in a secure chamber have been bear-proof for 20 years. But at the beginning of this month, that changed.

“On Friday, Nov. 1 two bears came to our house in the middle of the night,” Myggen writes. “They broke through our locked garage door; destroyed the fridge and freezer, pulling them out from the wall and ripping out the insulation, taking about $700 worth of food, vandalizing the garage.” The locked garage doors are made of wood, barred from the inside with a 2×4 held in place with large metal brackets. The bears tore up the bottom of the door and were able to shake out the bar that holds the doors closed. That night they also “broke into our Yukon vehicle and ripped the cargo area apart. The Yukon had no food in it, not even a gum wrapper.

“We barricaded shut the broken doors of the garage by parking a vehicle directly in front of them so [the bears] couldn’t open it.

But they didn’t call anyone about the event.

On Saturday, Nov. 2 at about 2 p.m. the bears came back, the couple recalls.

The smaller one came up on the deck. It left muddy paw prints on the sliding glass windows about five feet up from the ground. It was trying to enter the house.

“I tried to scare it away with a football game air horn but that did not make an impression. The big one was around the corner. They didn’t run; they casually walked away,” Myggen said.

Then, late Sunday night, while the family was sleeping, the pair came back.

“They punched in the dog door, then ripped the front door of the house off its hinges, including ripping the dead bolt through the frame,” Finn Myggen wrote. “They got into our front hallway.”

Carol Myggen said she was terrified as she ran out of the bedroom to see two large bears in her house, right in front of her.

The couple’s two dogs, Red and Blue, each about 100 pounds, came running and barking fiercely.

“We and our dogs scared them away. It is extremely scary to have two big bears in your house growling and lashing out after you, just in case you haven’t tried it,” Myggen said.

They pulled the door back up and barricaded it with a heavy table and went back to bed. Still they didn’t call anyone.

But the bears weren’t done. In the first hours of Monday, Nov. 4 they came back and broke into the trash room. This is a fully enclosed chamber that is built into the front of the house, also out of logs. The door has a sliding locking mechanism about six inches long.

“That room has been safe for 20 years,” Myggen said. “We dialed 911. The sheriff’s deputy was there within 15 minutes. He used his cruiser’s flashing lights and ran the siren, the big horn—‘woop woop bleggh bleggh,’” he mimics ruefully. “The bears just continued to browse around.”

The deputy tried throwing rocks and managed to strike the animals with a few pieces of thrown firewood, Myggen said.

“They looked annoyed and after 45 minutes they walked into the forest. The deputy tried to get Fish and Wildlife to come up and he asked me to call the following day.

“He told us the bears were extremely dangerous since they had no fear of humans. The first thing next morning, I put bigger screws in the hinges of the front door and reinforced the frame and fixed the dog door. They brought the cage Monday. That night the bear entered the cage about 8-9 p.m. The USDA trapper came at about 11 p.m. to take it away.

“They brought the trap back the following morning. That was Tuesday, Nov. 5, a week ago, so since then the smaller bear has not been back. We think it has gone back into the forest and doesn’t have confidence without the bigger bear,” Myggen said.

We received an email the day after our interview with the Myggens: “3:12 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 12. I just got off the phone with Fish and Wildlife,” Myggen wrote. “Since we all think the small bear has left the area, the trap will be closed tonight and will be picked up tomorrow. Maybe that is at least one positive note for the ending of this story.”

Back on the internet, the online posts were still passionate and accusatory, fueled by a teaspoon of fact, a pound of  rumor and the unfortunate piece of misinformation published in the Kern County Sheriff’s log. That mixture was then spun into a sensationalistic television story by Bakersfield’s TV-23 on Monday night, with no fact-checking by its reporter also misquoted the homeowner.

Fed Bear, Dead Bear

CDFW Senior Wildlife Biologist Gerstenberg explained the state’s depredation policy: “If it is a habituated bear, we don’t relocate them—for human safety reasons. The behavior  problem does not go away. It just becomes somebody else’s problem. The bear is either ‘good enough to live or bad enough to die,” Gerstenberg said sadly, adding again that people cause the problem in the first place.

He hastened to mention an exception: the “no harm, no foul” bears who stumble into a place they are not supposed to be by accident, and are just trying to find a way back to the wild. They are relocated.

On Wednesday, as we go to press, we are told the bear trap has been removed. But have the hazards we each create to the lives of these animals also been removed? Look around.

Photo captions:

The home of Finn and Carol Myggen in Pine Mountain was under siege for five days this month by a 350-pound male bear and a 250-pound adult companion. At right and below is a USDA bear trap.

This mother bear and a small cub were playing outside a house on upper Linden on Monday, Nov. 11. The cub was playing with a rubber tire swing hanging from a tree beside the house.

Myggen’s garage door was shattered and the sturdy lock system shaken loose.

The freezer was pulled away from the wall and torn up.

The vehicle interior was pulled apart.

Left, The dog door was punched in; above, the deadbolt was pulled through the door frame and right, the bears were into this hallway of the house when the dogs scared them back out.

One of the bears early Monday, Nov. 4 after breaking into the trash
room built into the house.

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This is part of the November 15, 2013 online edition of The Mountain Enterprise.

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