A female black bear was killed on Aug. 9 at Black Canyon Campground in the north end of Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area, after it became habituated to human food and became increasingly more aggressive toward people. According to Park Service officials, the decision to destroy the bear was made in the interest of public safety.
“This is an act no one in the park wants to happen, and it could have easily been prevented by the simple act of securing all food and other attractants in the bear boxes provided at each site,” said Chief Interpreter Christy Fleming.
The 100-150 pound black bear accessed unsecured food and coolers at the popular campground on Big Horn Lake for an estimated three years. It recently began to display aggressive behavior toward people as a direct result of its habituation to human food. According to park officials, Black Canyon Campground has been closed to the public at various times during that time period due to the actions of this particular bear. Rangers have been monitoring the bear and its activity in the area since a most recent closure of the campground on July 26. The campground was closed after the same bear took a swipe at a child who was sleeping inside of a tent in the campground. Fortunately, the child was not seriously injured in the incident.
“Unfortunately, this is the kind of thing that happens when a bear becomes habituated to human food and loses his fear of people,” said District Ranger Dale Kissner.
While they monitored the closed area, the bear presented itself to the rangers in an aggressive manner. One ranger tried to deter the bear by shooting it with a round of rubber slugs, hitting it front and center. The bear ran into some brush, but came back out five minutes later. The ranger then shot a second round of rubber slugs at the bear, hitting it in the back. The bear ran away for 15 minutes before approaching the rangers again in a fearless manner.
“A wild bear is naturally afraid of people,” explained Kissner. “He will run away, especially if a deterent round is fired at him. This bear was clearly not afraid at all.”
The Black Canyon Campground has been reopened since the incident. Officials remind visitors that it is not only illegal to feed bears but also cruel, because it often provokes aggressive behavior toward humans on the part of the bear, leaving officials with few options other than to destroy it in the interest of public safety.
Kissner said a fine of $100 plus an additional $25 administrative fee is often imposed on people who leave food unattended in their campsites. There is also a fine for deliberately feeding any wildlife.
“We have bear proof storage bins in all of the campgrounds except the one at Horseshoe Bend,” explained Kissner. “We don’t usually have bears in that campground, so it is not necessary. However, we do have black bears throughout the park, especially on the Montana side, and bears trying to get into human food is a problem we deal with all the time. The problem is that if they get even one reward, they are habituated for life. People have to remember that a human fed bear is a dead bear. Maybe not right away but eventually it will have to be destroyed.”
Kissner said he believes that most people do the right thing and understand how important it is to keep their food away from bears. It’s a small percentage who want to make the bear into a pet who don’t realize how aggressive a bear can become.
Sadly, relocation has become less and less of an option for problem bears, said Kissner. Once habituated to human food, a bear will most likely end up being shot.
by Patti Carpenter