Wildlife officials found the young black bear along a highway in Oregon, feasting on trail mix, sunflower seeds and cracked corn that appeared to have been deliberately left there for him. It was the latest in a string of worrying incidents indicating that the 100-pound male had become too comfortable with humans; law enforcement had previously been made aware that people were taking selfies with the bear. And so, state officials felt they had no choice but to kill the animal.
“[I]t was a human health and safety risk,” wildlife biologist Kurt Licence tells Samantha Hawkins of the Salem Statesman Journal, “and we had to remove it.”
Earlier this month, the Washington County Sheriff’s Office and the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife started getting calls about the bear, which liked to hang out near a boat ramp at Scoggins Valley Park, the collective name for a series of park areas dotted around Oregon’s Henry Hagg Lake. Believed to be around two or three years old, the bear was also cropping up in social media posts, compounding authorities’ concerns.
Last week, the sheriff’s office sent out a tweet urging people to stay away from the boat ramp where the bear had been seen, as they tried to encourage the animal to go back into the woods. On Thursday, Licence and fellow wildlife official Doug Kitchen decided to try to trap and relocate the bear. But when they found it eating snacks that had been scattered along the highway by humans, they came to believe that the time for relocation had passed.
The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife explains that it “does not translocate bears that have been habituated to humans because these animals are much more likely to have dangerous interactions with humans in the future.” And so, officials “lethally removed” the creature.
“This is a classic example of why we implore members of the public not to feed bears,” Licence says.
Black bears are opportunistic feeders, and like other bear species, they are drawn to the energy-rich, easily accessible snacks that humans bring to their environment. “Would you rather eat ants or ice cream?!?” asks the National Parks Service.
The more food bears obtain from humans, the more likely they are to lose their natural fear of us. Sometimes, wildlife experts can use aversion tactics, like rubber bullets and pyrotechnics, to re-spark the bears’ innate wariness of humans; according to the NPS, these methods work best when they are applied immediately after a bear has obtained food for the first time. But bears that have gotten used to scrounging around human-occupied spaces “may become bold or aggressive in their attempts to obtain human food and become a threat to public safety,” the NPS says. “When this happens, the bear pays the ultimate price–it is destroyed.”
But there are other ways that bears might suffer if they start eating human snacks. They are at risk of ingesting food packaging, can become sick from foods that they are not meant to consume and, because they become habituated to people, are more likely to get hit by cars or fall victim to poachers. It is for this reason that officials urge campers and hikers to store food and trash in locked, secure containers—and certainly to refrain from intentionally feeding bears. In Oregon, in fact, it is illegal to “scatter food, garbage or any other attractant so as to knowingly constitute a lure, enticement or attractant for potentially habituated wildlife.”
So while the people who left food for the now-deceased black bear were likely well-intentioned, they were woefully misguided. “Humans shouldn’t feed wild bears,” the Sheriff’s Office said in a tweet. “It’s a very sad situation.”