HARRISBURG, PA – Pennsylvania Game Commission Northeast Region officials have announced that a black bear that had become habituated to being hand-fed by people at Merli-Sarnoski Park, Carbondale, Lackawanna County, was euthanized by agency 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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