There is a good reason Maryland has a law against feeding bears. The reason, unfortunately, played out last week in Westernport when a bear had to be shot by Maryland Wildlife & Heritage Service personnel.
The bear, a 172-pound male, had been walking around town for more than a month because people were feeding it, state officials said.
Last Tuesday, Natural Resources Police got a call complaining about the bear. Biologist Harry Spiker said, “People had put trash out for pickup the next day. A group was closely following the bear and watching it as it looked for trash.”
When Spiker and his crew arrived, the bear was in a strip of woods between Hammond Street and state Route 36. “I think it’s belly was full and it was resting,” Spiker said. “It allowed me to get within 25 feet before it started snapping its jaws. It had lost all fear of people.” Spiker shot the bear with a drug dart.
“It takes 15 to 20 minutes for the drug to take effect, but this time the drug didn’t work at all,” he said. The initial plan had been to use dogs to chase the bear out of town, but because of the residential setting, that idea was abandoned.
Because the tranquilizer did not work, the bear had to be shot.
Spiker said his department had reports that people had been hand-feeding the bear. As a result, the animal became accustomed to people and to being fed.
Intentionally feeding a bear is illegal. Convictions can result in a fine of $1,500 for a first offense and $4,000 for subsequent offenses along with jail time of up to one year. This was the first bear euthanized in Maryland this year. In 2012, six were put down.
People may think they are being kind-hearted by feeding bears. But the Westernport incident shows how the situation can turn into tragedy. As Spiker aptly pointed out: “This proves the adage that a fed bear is a dead bear.”