Officials Kill Young Black Bear That Became Local Selfie Celebrity

June 18, 2019 Updated: June 18, 2019

A young black bear was killed by officials in Oregon after it became something of a local celebrity, allowing people to take selfies with it on a popular boat ramp.

Officials said that the bear had become dangerously accustomed to humans after people had been leaving food out for it at a recreation park in Washington County.

Wildlife officers had tried to drive the 100-pound bear away from the lakeside where it was growing used to human admirers and providers, according to the Salem Statesman Journal. But when they returned the next day, the bear had returned to its usual lakeside haunt at Henry Hagg Lake in Washington County—a popular spot for mountain biking, fishing, and hiking.

“We got within 20 feet of the bear,” wildlife biologist Kurt License told KGW. “It showed no reaction to us, no reaction to the passing cars we were within, and it’s just unnatural behavior to be close to people.”

“It was very clear that the animal was way too habituated,” License told the Statesman Journal. “With that information, it was a human health and safety risk, and we had to remove it.”

Deputies in Washington County had already warned the public in social media messages, urging them to stop feeding the bear after numerous reports of people stopping for selfies.

“Deputies are working to get this bear cub near Hagg Lake to go back into the woods…” they wrote in a Facebook message, accompanied by three pictures of the bear. “Please stay away from the area near Boat Ramp A.”

The bear was said to be between 2 and 3 years old.

With the summer heat setting in, the popular boat ramp where the bear had become something of a local spectacle was set to become busier and draw in larger crowds.

“We are saddened by the outcome, but leave it to the experts when it comes to these kinds of tough decisions,” said the Washington County Sheriff’s Office in a statement on Facebook.

Biologists found the bear eating trail mix, sunflower seeds, cracked corn, and other foodstuffs left next to a highway intersection, according to an Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) statement.

The ODFW pointed out that it is against state laws to “scatter food, garbage, or any other attractant so as to knowingly constitute a lure, enticement, or attractant for potentially habituated wildlife.”

“This is a classic example of why we implore members of the public not to feed bears,” said Licence in the ODFW statement. “While the individuals who put food out for this bear may have had good intentions bears should never, ever be fed.”

“They are perfectly capable of fending for themselves, and it’s always better to leave them alone and enjoy them from a safe distance.”

Some critics—including many comments on social media—said that officials should have simply relocated the bear, rather than shoot it.

Don’t Play Dead

However, the ODFW said it does not relocate bears that have gotten used to humans “because these animals are much more likely to have dangerous interactions with humans in the future.”

Doug Cottam, district biologist for the ODFW, told the Salem Statesman Journal that simply talking to the residents solves most bear problems. “Citizens don’t want to see these animals killed,” Cottam said. “People do about anything they can to get rid of the problem rather than the bear.”

He said in 2007 seven black bears had to be euthanized in his district alone.

Oregon is home to an estimated 25,000-30,000 black bears.

“Though black bears generally avoid humans and are not aggressive, there has not been a single documented human death caused by black bears in the state,” according to the Oregan Wild website. “Bears can become habituated to easily accessible sources of food leading to conflicts, and often the elimination of the problem-bear. In 2011, 22 bears were killed because of threats to human safety.”

An average of around three people are killed in the United States every year in bear attacks, according to KTU.

The ODFW advises (pdf) the following if you happen to come across a black bear:

STOP: Never approach a bear at any time for any reason. If you see bear cubs leave the area.
GIVE IT SPACE: Give any bear you encounter a way to escape. Step off the trail and slowly walk away.
STAY CALM: Do not run or make sudden movements. Face the bear and slowly back away.
AVOID EYE CONTACT: Don’t make eye contact with the bear.
DON’T RUN: It may encourage the bear to chase you.
FIGHT BACK: In the unlikely event you are attacked, fight back, shout, be aggressive, use rocks, sticks, and hands.

That last piece of advice only applies in the case of black bears. With grizzly or brown bear attacks, the advice is to play dead.

Follow Simon on Twitter: @SPVeazey