The killing of a black bear by police this weekend is causing controversy in the waterfront town of Havre de Grace.
Havre de Grace Police say they responded to reports of a bear on residential property in the Harford County, Maryland town at the mouth of the Susquehanna River. Officers “launched a search for the bear and alerted citizens in the area that a bear was sighted and to take appropriate actions.”
Police eventually found the bear in the area of the Promenade, along the Havre de Grace waterfront, and according to police “had to euthanize the bear due to the high potential for a physical encounter with humans.”
Some wildlife advocates, like the Harford County-based Susquehannock Wildlife Society (who were not involved the night of the sighting), expressed disappointment at the officers’ decision to kill the bear. Susquehannock points out that while black bears are often seen as human-killers, attacks are actually incredibly rare. Over the last 100 years, there have been about 100 deaths among hundreds of thousands of black bears living in North America.
Hundreds of neighbors and Facebook followers argued about whether the bear should have been killed for the safety of the town, relocated by natural resources officers instead, or left to its own devices.
The Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR), which has a hotline set up for “bear-related emergencies”, says it was advised of a bear sighting that night in Havre de Grace, but according to DNR spokesman Gregg Bortz, “our staff was not aware of circumstances that would have led to the bear being a threat.”
Bortz tells Bay Bulletin, “The department’s standard response in a situation like this would be to allow the bear to leave the area on its own if possible. Natural Resources Police will respond if a bear is endangering the public. Our Wildlife Response Team oftens requires an hour or more to mobilize and respond to a location.”
In this case, DNR and Havre de Grace police didn’t seem to share the same opinion on whether the bear was endangering the public or not.
“We understand this was a very unfortunate event, but officers made this decision based on the overwhelming concern for public safety,” Havre de Grace Police said in a statement.
Police say their investigation is still ongoing.
DNR notes that juvenile bears are seeking territories of their own this time of year, so sightings in areas like this are common. They’ve been documented in central Maryland for at least the past decade, and this spring have been recorded in Montgomery, Howard, and Baltimore counties, and most commonly in Western Maryland where the bear population is concentrated.
If you encounter a bear in a residential area, Bortz says, it’s best to allow the bear an escape route rather than cornering or surrounding it, encourage it to move on by making loud noises, and “remove from backyards any attractants such as bird food and trash that may cause the bear to hang around for a while.”
You can call Maryland Department of Natural Resources Police (NRP) if you encounter a bear you’re concerned about: 800-628-9944 or 410-260-8888.
The Susquehannock Wildlife Society says the outcome of this incident has inspired them to launch a forum with its partners to educate the region on how to respond to bear encounters like this one. In a Facebook post, they write, “We understand that here we all are not used to dealing with bears in the way that our western counties and neighboring states have learned to over the years since populations have become established. This is the time to learn before more bears arrive in our landscape.”
-Meg Walburn Viviano