CO kills collared bear in Ely area
Ely, Minn. — A conservation officer last week killed a collared black bear in the Ely area after it entered a property and wouldn’t leave.
A Wildlife Research Institute biologist had collared the bear last month, though it wasn’t part of a larger bear study that Lynn Rogers is conducting in the area.
Rather, the bear had been injured and biologists collared it so they could track it and give it antibiotics. Rogers now believes the bear – a yearling female – at one time was captive, and had been released into the wild.
DNR officials say they have no evidence it was anything but a wild bear.
The story began Aug. 2, when conservation officers received a call from Eagles Nest Township about a bear that entered a property where a mother and her children were in a garage. They tried to scare it away, including by blowing an air horn, but, according to a DNR incident report, “the bear stood its ground and snarled at them.”
The officers – Dan Starr and Jason Beckmann – saw the bear shortly after they arrived on the scene.
“The bear walked up to CO Starr and sniffed his hand,” the report says. “I saw the bear open its mouth and make contact with CO Starr’s hand with its teeth. The bear did not appear to be afraid of humans at all. The bear also showed no signs or intention of leaving the area.”
The officers also tried to scare away the bear. When they failed, they made the decision to kill it. Starr shot the 130-pound bear once with a shotgun slug.
“The bottom line is that public safety is paramount,” said Lou Cornicelli, DNR wildlife research manager. “Unfortunately, it came to this.”
Rogers said he feels empathy for the officer.
“I can’t blame them too much for shooting this bear that just showed no fear, but it does show the need for education, too,” he said.
DNR wildlife veterinarian Erika Butler conducted a gross necropsy of the bear shortly after it was killed. Its stomach was nearly full and contained foods including peanuts, raisins, and a “massive amount” of sunflower seeds.
“The bear had been habituated and it was coming for more human food,” Cornicelli said.
Rogers figured its stomach would be full of sunflower seeds as it likely had been eating at one of the feeding stations within the study area, “where about a dozen households have been feeding bears since at least as early as 1961,” he said. “As a result, there are no bad food years here, so they have fewer problems (with bears) than anywhere I know.”
The bear’s behavior leads Rogers to believe it was raised by humans and released into the wild. His colleague, Sue Mansfield, reported the bear was the easiest on which she’d ever put a radio collar.
And then in the ensuing days and weeks, as Mansfield and Rogers located the bear to give it antibiotics, it “wanted to engage us in play,” he said. “The wild bears never do that.”
While those animals allow researchers to adjust their collars or change batteries, “there’s no attachment to us at all,” Rogers said. “It’s that they are working for food, and part of that work is they let us monkey with them while they are getting it.”
But when that’s done, the bears leave, he said. This bear, on the other hand, would “sit down like it was happy to be with a human.”
Even if the bear wouldn’t have been killed, Rogers says he would have removed its collar because any information gleaned from it would have been tainted.
Under DNR policy and state law, conservation officers and other enforcement agencies may kill a nuisance bear if it is determined the bear is a threat to public safety. The DNR generally does not trap and relocate nuisance bears because the animals often will return to the same area or create a problem somewhere else. An average of about 20 bears are killed legally each year in Minnesota under state laws that allow private property owners or peace officers to take bears to protect property and public safety.