Cumberland Times-News

July 3, 2013

Westernport bear killed, had lost all fear of people

Michael A. Sawyers
Cumberland Times-News

— WESTERNPORT — A bear that had been hanging around Westernport for more than a month because people were feeding it was shot and killed by Maryland Wildlife & Heritage Service personnel Tuesday night after an attempt to tranquilize it failed.

“We got a call after dark Tuesday that the bear was walking around town,” said Biologist Harry Spiker. “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 172-pound male 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.

“After the dart hit we could hear the bear running through the woods and it crossed Route 36 and ran up Georges Creek for about a quarter mile into a very thick area where the dogs treed it and it was euthanized (by gunshot).”

This bear was known in town.

“We had reports of people hand feeding it,” Spiker said. “We know that kids tossed hot dogs to it.”

Clarissa Harris, also of WHS, said the bear worked Westernport from the old Bruce High School on one end to Westernport Road on the other, often in the daytime.

“This proves the adage that a fed bear is a dead bear,” Spiker said.

This bear had been aversively conditioned twice by Natural Resources Police this year, meaning it was hit with pepper spray and rubber buckshot in an effort to change its behavior.

Concern in the community was such that on Monday Spiker and Regional Manager Jim Mullan spoke at the city council meeting about the situation.

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.

“A bear doesn’t have to be aggressive to hurt somebody,” Spiker said. “An animal that size, if it bumps somebody an injury can result. Public safety trumps everything else.”

Contact Michael A. Sawyers at msawyers@times-news.com.