‘Hand-Fed’ Pennsylvania Bear Euthanized Over Public Safety Fears

A black bear that had become habituated to being hand-fed by
people at Merli-Sarnoski Park, Carbondale, Lackawanna County, was
euthanized by Pennsylvania Game Commission officers Saturday, June
4, because of escalating concern over public safety. 

“Removing this bear is most unfortunate, but necessary given
this particular bear’s habituation to approaching people for food,”
said Steve Schweitzer, Game Commission Northeast Region Office
director. “Black bears have a natural instinct to avoid humans. A
habituated bear that has lost its natural fear of humans and begins
to associate people with providing food is the type of bear we do
not want in the resident bear population. It would be irresponsible
not to remove such a bear after we observed the bear repeatedly
confronting people to obtain food. That is why wildlife officials
across North America warn that ‘a fed bear is a dead bear.'”

A few weeks ago, the Game Commission Northeast Region Office was
made aware of a bear visiting the beach and picnic area of the
park, rummaging through garbage cans looking for easy meals. During
this time, people began feeding the bear, including some fishermen
who tossed bluegills or perch to the bear.

“Bears are intelligent animals, and this one was no exception,”
Schweitzer said. “Within days, the bear quickly learned to connect
people with food. Soon the distance between bear and humans went
from yards to feet to finally inches. The most recent reports were
that some individuals were hand-feeding the bear.

“Pictures of the hand-feeding were sent to the Game Commission by a
concerned citizen. We had pictures of a young man lying on the
ground literally within inches of this bear. Another showed the
bear standing on top of a picnic table while people sat at the
table.”

Based on this information and photos, a Game Commission Wildlife
Conservation Officer (WCO) was dispatched to the scene. Arriving at
the park after closing hours, the WCO found the bear in the picnic
area.

“After trying to chase the bear from the area, the WCO decided a
more aggressive approach was needed and fired non-lethal rubber
buckshot from his shotgun, striking the animal twice,” Schweitzer
said. “The effect of the buckshot was positive, causing the animal
to run into the woods. However, its dispersal was only temporary
and calls from the park personnel began to come in about the animal
being back. Efforts to stop the human behavior that lead to this
situation, or trap the bear for relocation, were unsuccessful while
reports of the bear approaching people continued, so the only
prudent thing left to do was to remove the animal.”

The bear, a 75-pound male, appeared to be in excellent physical
condition, and had most likely been chased away by an adult female
in preparation for this summer’s breeding season.

“Despite the bear’s apparent young age, there still remained a
potential for future conflicts once this unwanted behavior became
established,” said Mark Ternent, Game Commission bear biologist.
“Had this bear not been removed, any subsequent encounters with
people may have been perceived as an opportunity to gain food based
on its conditioning.”

Since 2003, it has been illegal to intentionally feed black
bears in Pennsylvania. The feeding ban was put in place to avoid
habituating black bears and to prevent situations in which an
individual feeding bears creates a nuisance situation for his or
her neighbors. Additionally, the unintentional feeding of bears can
result in a written warning that, if ignored, can result in a
citation for subsequent offenses. Anyone cited for illegally
feeding a bear is subject to a fine of $100 to $200, if
convicted.

“Unfortunately, this bear ended up in the wrong area among people
who did not respect it,” Schweitzer said. “We have been steadfast
in our message, year after year, that feeding wildlife, especially
black bears, will only end in trouble. A black bear, regardless of
its size, is a very powerful animal that can turn a seemingly
innocent encounter into a serious situation.”

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