Feb. 7, 2018 — Interactions between people and bears have been increasing in Florence and across the state over the past few years, according to the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW).
ODFW has statewide management authority for the animals and estimates that there are approximately 30,000 black bears in the state, and bear and human interactions are usually non-violent.
Unfortunately, one of these usually benign meetings ended with the need to terminate three yearling bears living within Greentrees Village on Rhododendron Drive.
“There are long-standing problems with black bears in the Florence area and in the Greentrees community,” said ODFW Communications Coordinator Michelle Dennehy.
She added the situation in Greentrees Village has developed over several years and, despite efforts by ODFW, the decision to kill the animals was necessary.
Under Oregon’s bear policy, as set by the Black Bear Management Plan, bears are considered a human safety risk when they are repeatedly seen around structures or residences in daylight — indicating they are habituated to people rather than afraid of them, which is their normal behavior.
“When they show repeated feeding in garbage or are damaging property, or demonstrate aggressive behavior such as snarling, popping or bluff charging, which is what had happened in this instance, three yearling bears had to be put down,” said Dennehy.
She said that two of the adolescent bears were euthanized on Jan. 25, with a third terminated on Feb.1.
In that time, residents of Greentrees called and emailed Siuslaw News, requesting information regarding the killing of the animals.
Those concerned were surprised they were not notified of the yearlings’ removal, or that the Home Owners Association for the community was not included in the decisions that led to the killings.
Greentrees Village General Manager Louis Dashofy said the decision to cull the yearlings was not made by the staff at Greentrees, but by the ODFW.
The specific circumstances that led to the shootings were described by Dennehy as a random confrontation between a landscaper and the bears.
“The sow and at least three other bears were living beneath a gazebo in a backyard of a Greentrees resident,” Dennehy explained. “As a landscaping crew clearing brush by the gazebo was working in late January, one of the bears came out and swatted at the landscape worker.”
ODFW, in conjunction with Oregon State Police (OSP), responded by setting up cameras and a live trap — meaning a type of trap that does not kill or injure the animal — in late January and quickly caught and euthanized two of the three yearling bears.
“After the first two bears were trapped, the remaining sow and yearling would not enter the live trap over the next week, so we removed the trap and asked for assistance from U.S. Department of Agriculture Wildlife Services, an agency with expertise in predator control,” said Dennehy. “When they went to the gazebo, a yearling bear was on site and popped its jaw and bluff charged the responder, which were signs of aggression.”
The responder then shot the bear, killing it on site.
The mother bear has not yet been caught or killed and ODFW has heard no reports of her as of Tuesday.
Dennehy suggested the sow was still living at Greentrees or in the surrounding area, most likely due to the availability of food.
“Once bears become habituated, they tend to stay that way — which is why we are always telling people not to feed bears and to secure their garbage, so this behavior never has a chance to start,” said Dennehy, who points out that Oregon Revised Statue (ORS) 498.012 authorizes the use of lethal force to address damage, public nuisance or public safety issues, and she believes the situation at Greentrees met those guidelines.
“We’ve been trying for months to get this situation under control, but it’s been getting worse not better, with bear behavior escalating. It’s our responsibility to manage bears so they don’t threaten public safety,” Dennehy said. “As Greentrees is a community with residences in close proximity, it’s unacceptable for bears to be in this area behaving like they are. Having at least four habituated bears in one small community is a dangerous situation and one that needed responding to.”
Dennehy reminds those living in close proximity to bears that it is illegal to provide food to bears. The improper disposal of food waste is one of the most common reasons that bears venture onto private property.
“When people do call us, we talk to them about why securing garbage, cleaning up under bird feeders and taking other steps to keep bears wild — and not habituated — is so important,” Dennehy said. “We also do this through our ‘Living with Bears’ webpage, providing a brochure of this information, and sometimes sending out statewide reminders via news release.
“We are also hoping to do a presentation at Greentrees soon about our bear management policies.”
ODFW reports only four cases of bear and human interactions have ever resulted in human injuries and there have been no documented human mortalities in Oregon as the result of black bears.