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Richard Piatt ReportingYears of bear attacks were enough to drive one Utah sheepherder out of business. One rancher tells Eyewitness News he lost hundreds of sheep to what he calls a constant string of hungry bears.
Sheepherder Kevin Beckstrom holds one of the few lambs left in his herd. He used to have 2,500 sheep, now he has about 100. The rest have been sold because Beckstrom gave up sheepherding. He says he was losing too many to bear attacks.
Beckstrom says, "We can see paw tracks, they're in the dirt around. You can tell by the way they maul them."
Beckstrom says bear attacks on sheep herds is a dirty little secret in the Wasatch Mountains. Those bears are hungry, aggressive and plentiful, he says.
Each one of his ewes is worth about $150, the small lambs about $120. Over the years, Kevin Beckstrom says his family has lost about $150,000, just to bear attacks. "The last five years it's been devastating. You can only borrow so much and pay back so much," he says.
Beckstrom says his losses are tied to an increase in the black bear population. He and his staff have killed 17 bears in the last three years.
While responding to this week's bear attack, the director of the Division of Wildlife Resources, Jim Karpowitz, said the bear population is stable, but he said responding to problem calls is a constant job. "We move a lot of bears, we kill bears and we work with the public to minimize those problems," he said.
But recent problems have driven Beckstrom out of a job his father and his grandfather did. Bears, he said, killed the family business.
The state budgets $200,000 a year to reimburse ranchers for bear and cougar attacks. Beckstrom said he's tapped into the program, but it's only a portion of his loss.