Vermont woman charged with using bear spray on hunters | Environment | Seven days

A Newbury bear hunter says he got his face full of bear spray earlier this month after a Groton woman apparently challenged his chosen hobby.

Butch Spear, the former president of the Vermont Bear Hound Association, said Seven days that he and some hunting buddies were driving near Groton State Forest with a pack of dogs in their pickup truck on July 10 when they were confronted by a rude animal lover.

Spear said the woman entered the public road, blocked his way, then pepper sprayed him and his buddies.

“My first words to her were to ask her to get off the road,” Spear recalled Monday. “She told me to go F myself and a bunch of other stuff.”

The incident, which hunters and the woman caught on camera, reportedly escalated from there.

An investigation by the Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department led game wardens to cite Liza Nanni, 61, for interference with a hunter, simple assault and disorderly conduct. His first court date is set for September 26 in Caledonia County Superior Court. She could not immediately be reached for comment.

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Manager Justin Stedman, who patrols the area but did not investigate the incident, said he could not believe the initial report.

“It’s new for us,” Stedman said. “When I first heard about it, I thought someone was pulling my leg.”

Stedman said it appears a verbal confrontation quickly turned into an unfortunate assault.

“I think emotion and passion took over everyone’s ability to accept disagreement,” Stedman said.

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Butch Spears' Dogs - FILE: JEB WALLACE-BRODEUR

  • File: Jeb Wallace-Brodeur
  • Butch Spears’ Dogs

Bear hunting involves using packs of dogs to hunt bears, either to hunt or to keep them wary of humans, or both. Bear hunting season runs from September 15 to November 21. To prepare for the season, bear hunters in Vermont are allowed to train their dogs between June 1 and September 15.

Spear said he, his friend and his friend’s 13-year-old grandson were looking for bears but did not stop the pickup or release the dogs when the woman came in the middle of the road near his driveway and confronted them.

Spear said he told his companions to film the incident, having learned his lesson, he said, by getting people to misrepresent his actions.

He has become something of a lightning rod in the ethical hunting debate in Vermont, unabashedly defending his sport against animal rights groups who advocate hunting restrictions. He was a central figure in a Seven days cover story from last September titled “Wildlife Wars”.

Spear declined to detail anything that was said during the confrontation, citing the ongoing investigation. But as it escalated, he noticed the woman holding what he mistakenly thought was a bottle of water.

“She ended up pepper spraying the three of us,” Spear alleged.

Spear said he felt the woman should face additional charges and be jailed, especially since one of the victims was a youth.

“This 13-year-old boy didn’t deserve to be pepper sprayed,” Spear said. “This 13-year-old girl didn’t deserve what she said and did.”

When asked if the woman might have feared the trio were unleashing dogs on her property, Spear said he had no idea. He said he had never met her before.

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Spear said he had signed agreements with most of the other residents of his rural route that allowed him to run dogs on their property. He also noted that state law allows him to retrieve his dogs from private property where they are not welcome.

The near impossibility of predicting where hunting dogs will end up when on the trail of a bear is one of the main criticisms of the sport. It is also the source of growing friction between landowners and bear hunters.

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A treed bear - FILE: JEB WALLACE-BRODEUR

  • File: Jeb Wallace-Brodeur
  • A tree bear

A bill that sought to ban bear hunting with dogs failed to gain traction in the Legislative Assembly this year despite persistent campaigning by groups such as Protect Our Wildlife, which called the practice barbaric .

But state wildlife officials have strongly defended the practice as a Vermont tradition that serves a valuable purpose of keeping bears in fear of humans.

“I strongly condemn the criminal behavior that has occurred in Groton,” Vermont Fish and Wildlife Commissioner Christopher Herrick said in a news release. “No matter how different our practices or approaches may be, we should all remain civil and respectful when enjoying the outdoors.”

Helen L. Cuellar