Tuesday, August 12, 2008

ADCNR Shoots a Bear

(I've made a couple of changes to the original text here after talking with people familiar with the case of an Alabama conservation officer shooting a bear over the weekend.)

A timeline of the roaming young male's captures, releases, and final shooting appeared in this morning’s Athens News Courier’s update to the story.

WAFF 48 has their news video posted under the headline, “Protected bear shot by authorities.” “Conservation Officer Travis Gray said, ‘We had no choice...with all the people and everything we had to put him down.’ They said they tried to get a big tranquilizer dose for the gun, but couldn't. That infuriates [Sue] Cooper. She says she talked with a vet who had the proper dose and was waiting on someone to pick it up, ‘I spoke with him this morning. He waited an hour for someone to come and get it.’"

The story has been picked up by the AP and is getting wider exposure. The Anniston Star, Macon Telegraph, Orlando Sentinel and Miami Herald are all running the headline, “Officers shoot, kill protected black bear in Ala.” It quotes a very angry Sue Cooper, who first reported the bear: “I was so upset because the wildlife officer told me they were going to tranquilize it and relocate it, but they just shot it." Later the article says “Dr. Robert Pittman said animal control officials had called him, but no one ever came to pick the tranquilizer up.”

The News Courier article identifies shooter Travis Gray as a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service agent, but the ADCNR-DWFF 2007-08 hunting/fishing regulations book shows a Sergeant Travis Gray in Law Enforcement District One in Limestone County, and the video on WAFF shows him in ADCNR uniform.

I have no problem with humane euthanasia (or in emergency cases, shooting) of a genuine problem bear, and I wasn’t there, but this seems more like a public bear execution than a planned strategy. I doubt the conservation officer had gotten any Standard Operating Procedure training regarding such things, and I share Mrs. Cooper’s frustration over how it was handled. A state wildlife agency should be prepared for situations like this. They had 24 hours from the initial sighting Friday until killing the bear Saturday night. The “we didn’t have tranquilizer” claim only highlights a chronic incompetence in dealing with bears, and what message does it send when conservation officers gun down a bear in front of the public?

Permanent removal of this problem bear may well have been the best option, but I have been involved in the Alabama Black Bear Alliance since its inception in the late 1990s, and little I have seen to date indicates ADCNR is truly committed to managing for future bear populations. The critically small breeding bear population in the Creola area of Mobile County is being displaced by development and needs help. Translocation to other areas of suitable habitat to the north has been recommended by bear experts, but ADCNR has so far said no.

If nothing else, one suggestion I would make to ADCNR is to have tranquilizer and a culvert-type bear trap located in every district for quick deployment so a problem bear doesn't become a dead bear.


Anonymous said...

I completely agree.

ADCNR totally screwed up this situation from start to finish and took their typical "easy" way out. Shoot, shovel and shut up.

A Game Warden's wife said...

A good rule of thumb is to educate yourself before you leave comments. If you feel strong enough to leave such comments, why not call the aforementioned Sgt.? As his work number is listed, I'm sure that either he, or his supervisor would be more than happy to speak with you about whatever you think may have taken place.

Mark Bailey said...

@ Game Warden's Wife:
Thanks for your comment, which I think was directed toward "Anonymous" rather than me. As I said, I wasn't there, and for all I know it's possible the shooting that bear in front of a crowd of onlookers was unavoidable under the circumstances, so I'm not singling out officer Gray. It may not have been his fault that he was ill-prepared for such a situation (i.e., no tranquilizer even after 24 hours). I stand by my position that as an agency, ADCNR-DWFF has not demonstrated responsible leadership regarding bear conservation in Alabama, and what happened in Athens 15 months ago is an unfortunate result of a lack of proper planning and readiness for the inevitable human-bear conflict.