Whitesburg KY

Officials say black bear killed because it showed little fear of humans at Kingdom Come

Biologists with the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources were forced to euthanize a 480-pound black bear last week after it began to lose its natural fear of people. The decision was made after the bear allowed a woman and small child to approach within four feet of it at Kingdom Come State Park at the Letcher-Harlan county line.

It was the third bear euthanized in Kentucky by department biologists in less than two months.

Another 190-pound, 10-yearold female bear that approached people in campsites, bluffed them away from state park picnic tables and ate the abandoned food was euthanized April 19. That event occurred just one day after a 220- pound male bear was put down near Prestonsburg after exhibiting the same food-conditioned behaviors.

“Situations like these are unfortunate, but entirely preventable,” said Steven Dobey, black bear biologist for Kentucky Fish and Wildlife. “People must learn that the intentional, or unintentional, feeding of bears creates behaviors that are not acceptable for such powerful animals.”

Wildlife biologists say people feeding bears are condemning the animals to a bleak end.

“When bears are allowed to feed from garbage cans and Dumpsters, or especially when fed on purpose, they inevitably lose their natural fear of humans,” said Dobey. “Most people simply do not realize how fast and strong these animals are. Bears are opportunistic feeders and those that have been feeding around people are looking for the easy food they’ve come to expect. However, these are wild animals and their tolerant behavior can change in an instant.”

Black bears are native to Kentucky, but their numbers dropped significantly about a century ago due to logging and unregulated hunting. Bears have been returning to a largely reforested east Kentucky for the past two decades. And as their numbers are now growing steadily, people enjoy watching them.

However, people who leave food out so that they can see the bears are creating a problem.

“People are signing the bear’s death warrant,” said Dobey. “When a bear’s diet consists of easy pickings left out by people who simply want to watch it or take its picture, it begins to associate people with food instead of listening to a natural instinct to avoid them.

“That’s when they approach homes, populated picnic areas, and open garbage Dumpsters,” he said. “While it can be a tough decision to euthanize a bear for another person’s irresponsible actions, it is human safety that is our ultimate concern in these situations.”

Department personnel sometimes trap and relocate bears exhibiting nuisance behaviors, but relocated bears often find their way back to the original site or continue their nuisance behavior in a different area. When it becomes clear that their behavior threatens human safety, the bear will be destroyed.

Jayson Plaxico, a wildlife biologist from Prestonsburg, said the 480-pound male bear he euthanized at Kingdom Come State Park had recovered completely from a serious injury that was noticed last summer, when it was captured as a research animal.

“It was missing the last onethird of its lower jaw, probably from being hit by a vehicle,” said Plaxico. “We caught it in a trap last year and it weighed 300 pounds. It had become so dependent on eating garbage in Kingdom Come State Park that it allowed a woman with a small child to come within four feet of it.”

“One swipe from a powerful paw and that could be a tragedy,” said Dobey. “It can happen in an instant.”

It is illegal to feed bears in Kentucky. Persons doing so can be cited.

“We hope to get the message out that feeding bears only encourages behavior that will require us to kill them,” said Dobey. “We’ve had to kill three this spring already. And in all three instances it was because they were fed by people.”

Meanwhile, state parks officials indicated this week that they have no plans to change a decision to close Kingdom Come State Park to most visitors at 9 p.m.

About a dozen protesters gathered in a parking lot near the entrance to the park earlier this week and said they would remain there in tents until the decision to close the park is reversed.

Park manager Rick Fuller said the decision to close the park to non-campers each night was the result of “bear baiting” and is designed to protect the safety of the public.

Kentucky Department of Parks Commissioner Gerry Vandermeer told the Harlan Daily Enterprise that Fuller is doing a good job.

“It’s not about a park manager who’s closing the park at dusk, it’s about their safety,” said Vandermeer. “Rick takes his direction from us, and Rick should not become the focal point. He’s done a good job balancing something very, very difficult.”

Vandermeer told the Harlan newspaper that the protest was unique to the Department of Parks but said he respected their “Godgiven American right” to protest and said he would be open to further discussion on the subject with the demonstrators.

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