Bear in tree causes excitement at Green Street School

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BRATTLEBORO — Kindergartners at Green Street School received an unexpected visit from a furry creature Friday morning.

"Around 10 a.m. the kindergartners were being released for recess when a staff member spotted a black bear near the back of the playground," said Principal Mark Speno. "Teachers immediately got the kids back inside and we called for help."

In between getting the kids back in the school and emergency responders showing up, the bear scurried up into a tree on the other side of a fence dividing the woods from the playground.

"We have a plan in place for this type of situation," said Speno. "It's get out of the playground, get back in the school and make an announcement."

Speno said the student body of about 230 kids was excited by the news, but calm.

"The kids felt protected, cared for and safe," he said.

Lilli McKelvey, a second grader, didn't see the bear in the tree, but said she wasn't scared to learn it was in a tree in the back of the school.

"Because I like bears," she said.

Her brother, first-grader Sam McKelvey, said he was happy to hear about the bear and it's not the first time for the school.

"Last year there was a mama bear and her cub in the playground," he said.

Game Warden Kelly Price said there's no way of knowing if the bear spooked up into the tree on Friday is the same cub that was seen last year at Green Street School. He did say the bear appeared to be a young male, between 160 and 200 pounds. Despite the bear's size and location, Price said the bear did not appear to be a threat to school children or neighbors to the school.

"It was relatively lethargic, sleepy and very comfortable in the tree," he said. "It was non-aggressive and quite cute, just kind of hanging out up there."

Price received assistance from the Brattleboro Police Department and the Brattleboro Fire Department.

"Originally we talked about using negative reinforcement to move the bear on — bean bags and rubbers slugs. But the bear was non-confrontational," said Price. "It was more beneficial and safer to just keep the area secure until the kids could be released from school."

Speno said it worked out well because the students received an early release on Friday. He organized a quick meeting of about 15 staffers who were briefed on helping the kids leave the school in a safe manner. Some of the staff members actually escorted the walking students home so they didn't double back to get a look at the bear.

"The dismissal was smooth and orderly," said Speno.

"Once all the students left we went around and talked to the neighbors and asked them to let the bear be," said Price, who said it's best not to provoke a 200-pound wild animal, especially one that doesn't appear to be a threat.

"If we intervene unnecessarily there is a risk you could cause injuries to the bear," he said, which includes having to put the bear down if it reacts aggressively.

"The public concern that a bear is dangerous is usually unfounded," said Price.

He said he has responded to a number of nuisance bear calls in the area this summer.

"We had a horrible season with bears getting into trash and compost," said Price. While the wild berry crop was good this year, he said, other wild foodstuffs, such as acorns, beech nuts and wild apples were scarce. "The bears have fattened up as best they could and they are getting ready for hibernation now."

Locally, Price hasn't been called upon to put any bears down.

"We have really tried hard to have that be an absolute last option," said Price. "But when a bear has gotten to the point it feels comfortable breaking into people's dwellings, when they cross that line, we don't have much choice."

He expected the bear sleeping in the tree at Green Street School would lumber off soon in search of a more appropriate place to sleep through the winter.

Bob Audette can be contacted at 802-254-2311, ext. 151, or raudette@reformer.com.


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