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Young Black Bear In Ashland Is Euthanized, Sparking Criticism Of Fish And Wildlife Dept.

The juvenile black bear captured outside Ashland
Center for a Humane Economy
The juvenile black bear captured outside Ashland

A yearling black bear that was killed by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife after being captured outside Ashland on Highway 66 late last week is prompting criticism of the department and Oregon State Police.

The incident highlights the question of how vulnerable, wild animals should be dealt with after interacting with people.

On April 7th, an approximately 15-month-old docile black bear was spotted wandering on Highway 66 in the Green Springs area east of Ashland. Concerned citizens called a Jackson County volunteer fire chief for help. He attempted to lure the bear back into the woods but it continued following him to the narrow roadway where it posed a risk to drivers. He called ODFW and Oregon State Police but after they failed to arrive at the scene, he put the bear in his vehicle, took it home and put it in a dog crate.

Over the next day, concerned residents located an accredited wildlife sanctuary in California which agreed to come to Oregon and take the bear to their facility. Before that could happen though, workers from ODFW and OSP came to the man’s home, cited him for holding wildlife without a permit, and took the bear. They later euthanized it.

The decision to kill the young bear angered residents and wildlife advocates who say the agencies could easily have saved the animal.

“What these stories reveal is an internal culture, especially within ODFW, where there is a strong bias toward killing any animal that is found to be in need,” says Scott Beckstead with the Center for a Humane Economy and an adjunct professor at Willamette University who teaches classes in wildlife law and policy.

Local residents were in the process of arranging for the bear to be taken to Lions, Tigers and Bears, a “big cat and exotic animal rescue” outside San Diego, California when ODFW made the decision that the bear should be killed.

According to a Fish and Wildlife representative, holding the bear was illegal, and its lack of fear of humans, conditioning to food, and the fact that it was put in a dog crate all indicated it was habituated to people.

“Bears and any wild animal that has lost its natural fear of people is considered a public safety risk,” says an ODFW statement about the incident.

ODFW does at times place younger bear cubs with licensed wildlife rehabilitators but this bear was too old and used to humans, according to the agency, and it is inhumane to put a free-ranging bear in captivity.

“To put a yearling bear that’s been free ranging over 10 miles into a captive facility for the rest of its life is not something we support.”

After consulting with the state’s wildlife veterinarian, agency staff chose to euthanize the bear.

Oregon State Representative Pam Marsh, D-Ashland, wrote in a Facebook post that she was disappointed with the actions of both agencies including killing the bear, citing the fire chief who first tried to remove the bear from the highway and for what she called their “inaccurate account” of the incident. The initial explanation from wildlife officials was that the bear appeared to be emaciated.

“We depend on these state agencies for vital services and need to trust them. Thursday’s incident has severely compromised community respect for both agencies,” Marsh wrote, continuing, “I will continue [to] demand accountability for this incident from ODFW and OSP.”

Erik Neumann is JPR's news director. He earned a master's degree from the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism and joined JPR as a reporter in 2019 after working at NPR member station KUER in Salt Lake City.