The young black bear was starting to grow comfortable around his new human friends.
The 100-pound male, believed to be 2 or 3 years old, knew he could often find trail mix, sunflower seeds and cracked corn left for him along a highway near Henry Hagg Lake in northwestern Oregon. And humans in the nearby boating community roughly 30 miles west of Portland could count on easy selfies with the cub, often described on social media as “friendly.”
When calls came in this month alerting authorities to the 100-pound bear’s free food setup, and officials took note of the photos suggesting the omnivore was getting too at ease with curious passersby, the sheriff’s office urged people to stay away. Bears that get too used to being around humans can be more prone to attack, officials warned.
But fearing the animal was already too sociable, wildlife officials shot and killed the young black bear last Thursday.
The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife said officials had “lethally removed” the black bear that had become a fixture in the area in recent weeks. While the case left some questioning whether authorities could have done more to save the young bear’s life, officials said there was no other option.
“It was very clear that the animal was way too habituated,” wildlife biologist Kurt Licence, one of the officials who euthanized the bear, told the Salem Statesman Journal. “With that information, it was a human health and safety risk, and we had to remove it.”
The newspaper reported that the Washington County Sheriff’s Office and the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife started getting calls June 4 about the bear’s presence in Scoggins Valley Park near Henry Hagg Lake.
“Law enforcement became aware of interactions between the bear and humans after some individuals took ‘selfie’ photographs of themselves and the bear and posted them on social media,” the department said in a statement.
On June 12, the Washington County Sheriff’s Office tweeted photos of the cub, saying that deputies were attempting to get him “to go back into the woods.” Although police said they were initially successful in a since-deleted tweet, the bear returned the next day, The Oregonian reported.
On June 13, Licence and wildlife biologist Doug Kitchen received a call that the 100-pound bear was chowing down on a sizable pile of snacks on the side of the highway, according to the Statesman Journal. Officials originally hoped to relocate the black bear, but when they noticed it did not retreat when they approached, they decided euthanizing the animal was the only safe solution. Rick Swart, a spokesman with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, told the newspaper that it’s unlikely a bear so used to humans would stay away.
The state department emphasized that “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.'”
“This is a classic example of why we implore members of the public not to feed bears,” Licence said. “While the individuals who put food out for this bear may have had good intentions, bears should never, ever be fed.” He added, “They are perfectly capable of fending for themselves, and it’s always better to leave them alone and enjoy them from a safe distance.”
According to a report from Wide Open Spaces, there were 25 fatal black bear attacks between 1997 and 2017. Oregon, which is home to between 25,000 and 30,000 black bears, has seen just three attacks involving the animal since 2000, the Statesman Journal reported.
On social media, critics lashed out at authorities, with some sharing photos of the young black bear on the side of the highway.
“You are just so quick to shoot everything,” one person wrote to the sheriff’s office.
“I am no bear expert but it sounds like a bunch of lazy cold hearted jerks were in charge of this assignment,” another said.
“Unnecessarily cruel,” a critic tweeted.
Jennifer Harrison, who recently visited Hagg Lake with her family, told KOIN that although she’s always wanted to see a bear, she is upset that people feeding and taking photos with the cub resulted in its death.
“They got [the] bear killed and that’s not OK,” Harrison said to the news station. “They tried to do something they thought was a good thing, but it ended up getting the bear killed, so please do not feed the bears.”
The sheriff’s office echoed the sentiment for the deceased 100-pound black bear.
“It’s a very sad situation,” police said.