Bear death triggers awareness: play by the rules or pay the price
Wednesday, May 16, 2001
A man who admitted shooting a non-aggressive black bear in Oregon County, Missouri, has discovered that frontier justice is the wrong way to deal with problematic bears.
The Arkansas man is scheduled to appear in Oregon County Associate Circuit
Court June 12 for killing the bear in the Mark Twain National Forest north of the
Eleven Point River.
With more people exploring America's wild lands, human encounters with bears are increasing, but they need not be disastrous for either species.
Killing a bear is a Class A misdemeanor under Missouri law, punishable by a $1,000 fine and a year in jail. Because it was killed on federal land, he also could be charged under federal law. Federal penalties are considerably more severe than under state law. American black bears have been listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act since 1992.
Missouri Department of Conservation Ozark Region Protection Supervisor Gary Cravens said law enforcement officials are still considering how to handle the case.
After bear sighting reports and warnings, Cravens and three other conservation officials searched for the animal unsuccessfully near the man's campsite. Two days later the hunter called Cravens and admitted shooting the animal.
The Arkansas man claimed he shot the bear out of fear, but officials cited him for illegally killing a bear.
"This bear was right where a bear should be," said Cravens, "in a remote forested area nowhere near houses or a town. It was young and hungry, and it wasn't as shy of humans as most bears are, but that wasn't enough reason to kill it."
Cravens said he wishes the Conservation Department had been given a chance to deal with the animal.
We have the knowledge and equipment to help people in rare instances, like this one, where a bear becomes a concern," said Cravens. "Chances are very good that this bear could have been discouraged from future human contact without killing it."
Cravens said that people need to "make an honest effort to work with us before taking things into their own hands."
Black bears, the only bears that live in Missouri, are strongly attracted to food in
the spring and early summer, when their natural foods are least abundant. Pet and livestock feed and trash should be kept indoors or in bear-proof containers to avoid attracting and encouraging bears to visit areas frequented by humans, Craven advises. Bird feeders also may attract bears, and should be taken down in parts of southern Missouri where bears are common.
Biologists estimate Missouri's black bear population at 150 to 300 animals that live mostly south of the Missouri River.
Campers must take extra precautions to avoid bear problems. This means keeping food or trash inside vehicles and not disposing of grease, table scraps and other bear attractants outdoors. Hikers should hang backpacks with food, soap and other toiletries from a rope between two trees. Food and cooking utensils should never be kept inside tents or campers, say conservation officials.
Although Missouri has not had a reported bear attack in modern times, the possibility does exist. Most black bear attacks occur because the animal is frightened or defending its cubs against a perceived threat. Black bears are excellent climbers, so trees offer no refuge.
To avoid startling a black bear, it's a good idea to talk, whistle or sing to warn bears of their approach. If you encounter a bear and it has not seen you, leave the area quietly and quickly.
If the bear is aware of your presence, avoid making eye contact. Bears perceive a stare as a threat. Instead, turn and walk away slowly and quietly while speaking in a normal tone of voice. Don't show fear, run or make sudden movements, Craven warns.
Bears poor vision sometimes makes it difficult for them to identify humans even at close range. In such situations, bears often stand on their hind legs and lift their noses high in the air. This is not a threat, Craven says. The bear is just trying to use its keen sense of smell to identify an intruder. Avoid making a bear feel cornered. Black bears seldom attack if they can retreat. On a trail, step off the trail on the downhill side and slowly leave the area. If you see a cub, move slowly and calmly retrace your steps. Be on the lookout for other cubs and avoid getting near them or between them and the female, which could trigger the mother's protective instincts. If a bear attacks, fight back. Black bears have been driven away when people fought back with rocks, sticks or even bare hands.
Environmental News Network 5/16/2001
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