Bear lovers have beaten back a proposal in the state legislature that would have given Kentuckians authority to shoot the animals when they get close to homes.
Both the Humane Society of the United States and the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources opposed the legislation.
“Black bears are gentle animals who avoid humans when possible, usually only attracted to homes when we make garbage available to them,” said Pamela Rogers, the Humane Society’s Kentucky director. “The public needs to receive tools to reduce conflicts with bears, not be granted the authority to shoot bears just passing through.”
State Rep. Rick Nelson, DMiddlesboro, capitulated to opponents, saying he won’t push the measure he filed last month that could have protected Kentucky residents from criminal prosecution for shooting bears within 30 yards of their homes. That protection would have been available only to people who reasonably believed that shooting was necessary to protect against death or serious injury.
Critics said the language created the potential for bears innocently walking across a homestead to be shot.
Nelson was a no-show at a meeting of the House Committee on Natural Resources and Environment last week when the bill was to be called up for a vote. He said he didn’t want the bill to be voted on.
The lawmaker said he filed the bill after receiving calls from constituents who have been unable to walk from their homes to their cars because bears were in their yards ransacking garbage cans or eating from bird feeders and pet food bowls.
The legislation would have made a change in state law to justify shooting bears if a person “reasonably believes” the action is necessary to protect against death or serious injury.
More than a century ago, bears thrived in Kentucky’s mountain region, but over-hunting and habitat loss led to their disappearance. Over the past 20 years, they have been venturing back into Kentucky from the forests of neighboring states like Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia.
The U.S. bear population more than doubled between 1989 and 2006, rising from 165,000 to over 350,000, according to The International Association of Bear Research and Management, a bear conservation nonprofit that takes a periodic census of the animals. The Eastern states alone now have about 163,000 bears.
Estimates of Kentucky’s bear population range from 100 to 350.
Kentucky Wildlife Commissioner Jon Gassett acknowledged in a letter to Nelson that people who are “genuinely threatened with bodily injury from a black bear or any other wildlife species already can use deadly force” to protect themselves under state law.
Gassett said the mere presence of a bear near a person’s home doesn’t warrant shooting it.
Kentucky opened a hunting season for bears this year, but none were killed.
The legislation is House Bill 141.