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Bear rule pits WWII vet against Fish and Game just north of town

September 19, 2012
DALTON — Leonard Reeg has gone through a lot in his life. Amphibious landings in World War II, severe wounds, and accidents have shaped his life. Yet, one new challenge confronts the quiet man who lives just north of the Littleton line: the state's nuisance bear rules.

On June 5, Reeg received a citation from New Hampshire Fish and Game. The citation states that Reeg provided "material that results in attracting bears after being noticed to cease the activity." A court hearing on the issue is slated for September 24.

Reeg, who is 91, said that the citation made him upset. Regarding bears, he noted, "I've had no problem with them. They've been coming here for 30 years." He does not see the bears as a nuisance. "I think they are beautiful animals."

Reeg was a member of the Littleton Police Department in the 1970s.

The bear nuisance citation Reeg received did not levy a financial penalty. Fish and Game officer Matt Holmes, who issued the citation, said, "We are not interested in fining Mr. Reeg." Rather, the citation is an effort to get a judge's order to cease any bear feeding that occurs on the Reeg property.

The agency has concerns that bears are being attracted to Reeg's property through feeding. Holmes said trained officers use their discretion for the best approach to protect people against possible bear problems.

Part Fis 310 of Fish and Game rules is the regulation in question. In one long sentence, the rule reads, "No person shall use, place, provide, give, expose, deposit, scatter or distribute any material that results in attracting black bears after being noticed by the executive director or his designee to cease the activity because the activity may result in injury to a person, damage to property or create a public nuisance."

Thus, rather than banning the feeding of bears, the rule says that someone must stop feeding bears if told to do so by a Fish and Game officer.

Reeg finds this strange. There is a story in the August 2012 issue of Yankee magazine about a bear biologist in Lyme. Apparently, Reeg believes, you can feed bears all you want, unless you are told to stop by law enforcement.

Holmes said that naturally occurring feeding sources, such as trees and berry bushes are not a concern. He said that an "unnatural scenario", where property owners feed bears intentionally, are what the rule is set to address.

Bears that lose their fear of people can be dangerous, Holmes suggested. The nuisance bear rule was designed to decrease risks to people, he said.

Fish and Game supports wildlife viewing, Holmes said. The agency supports a "keep them wild" approach to bears, however.

A collection of large photos taken on the Reeg property attests to his interest in the assortment of wildlife he has seen. In one photo, a mother bear is seen with three young ones. In some cases, bears walk right up to Reeg's screened porch. There have been stare downs between bears and cats that Reeg owns, but no incidents of note, he said.

During a visit last week, there was some birdseed on the ground in his front yard. A squirrel and a trio of bluejays were enjoying the site. The only meat eater around was one of Reeg's cats, who eyed the birds with great interest.

Reeg's cats may be learning a bit from bears on the property. One feisty feline quickly climbed a tree to get a better perspective on the birds.

Reeg expressed concern that Fish and Game may take action to kill nuisance bears. An August story in the Burlington Free Press said that about 20 nuisance bears have been killed in Vermont this year. Holmes said that such a drastic action would be a last resort.

Holmes said that multiple Fish and Game employees have talked to Reeg about their concerns on his property. Reeg does not understand who may have complained to the state about bears on his land. "I don't like being harassed," he said.

Reeg disputes that his actions have caused the problem. "A bear will find something to eat no matter where it is." As he pointed to his front yard, Reed simply said, "The bears seem to like this place."

Although upset with the citation, Reeg has seen worse days. Regarding his service in World War II, he said, "I went through hell." He discussed his family's history of military service. Pointing to the symbolic power of the U.S. flag flying on his property, Reeg said, "Blood on that flag is my family's blood."

Severe wounds in Europe led to Reeg's long convalescence in hospitals both overseas and in the United States.

Reeg survived the Nazi war machine. He hopes that New Hampshire Fish and Game isn't his most difficult foe.

Garnett Hill
Northern Human Services
Parker Village
Martin Lord Osman
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