West St. Paul police put down injured bear roaming in populated area

A black bear was spotted in Inver Grove Heights recently. There have been a flurry of sightings reported online via social media and to area police. (Submitted photo)

Bear's body given to resident for butchering

Surrounded by joggers, curious onlookers and visitors of Harmon Park across the street, a West St. Paul police officer shot and killed an injured black bear in the interest of public safety early June 7 in the parking lot of a small apartment complex, authorities say.

West St. Paul Police Lt. Brian Sturgeon said risks were high “with an injured bear running around in a densely populated area on a Saturday morning next to a park.”

“We’re responsible to make sure the public is safe,” Sturgeon said. “If we didn’t (dispatch the bear), who knows what could’ve happened.”

Although local police did ask for the agency’s help, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources generally doesn’t have a role in such nuisance animal situations, according to Greg Salo, regional enforcement captain of the DNR.

He said the DNR would support police dispatching a bear if it were an immediate threat to public safety.

“We prefer that people just leave (bears) alone, and they’ll move on their way,” Salo said. “If there’s an immediate public safety threat, then the bear needs to be put down.”

Tracking the bear

Earlier that Saturday morning, multiple police agencies set up a perimeter to try to keep an eye on the bear near the border of West St. Paul and St. Paul, just north of South Charlton Street and Winona Street West, Sturgeon said.

While trying to contain the bear, officers contacted the DNR, but officials said the DNR wouldn’t “respond to such incidents and that local authorities would need to respond accordingly to protect their communities up to and including shooting loose animals,” a city statement said.

The bear managed to evade officers at one point, running between houses and hiding somewhere.

“It was running around like crazy,” Sturgeon said. 

Bear in congested area

The bear later wandered near Bernard Street West, where a pair of officers spotted the animal, Sturgeon said.

People were jogging nearby, a man was working on a vehicle in his garage and other residents got close to investigate the commotion.

Sturgeon said there were probably more people in the area at that time than on a typical Saturday, considering so many were curious about the bear search.

“Some knew that we were looking for a bear,” he said. “There was a considerable amount of people out and about that time of day.”

Salo said “gawkers” can sometimes be a bear’s undoing.

“That pretty much seals its fate,” Salo said. “Once people start gawking at it...and not letting them leave the area, pretty soon it does become a public safety threat.”

‘Danger to the community’

The bear was limping due to an injured hind foot, according to Sturgeon.

He said it was “so badly injured, the only thing that could be seen was, basically, a stump for a foot; there was fur and flesh missing.”

Considering the bear’s injury and the amount of residents potentially in harm’s way, Sturgeon said the two officers on the scene decided to shoot the bear.

“They felt that the bear was a danger to the community,” Sturgeon said. “The two officers decided it was the best thing to do in the situation.”

One of the officers shot it twice with a shotgun, he said, killing it.

Residents react

Shortly after the incident, the city posted a statement on its Facebook page about it, while residents shared online their own accounts and opinions of the bear being put down.

Views ranged from: “police did their job” to “Putting it out of its misery was probably a good thing to do for the bear” to “They should’ve tranquilized it and relocated it.”

The West St. Paul Police Department doesn’t have a tranquilizer gun. St. Paul Animal Control does, but animal control wasn’t near West St. Paul at the time, Sturgeon said. Plus, he said tranquilizing may not have been the best solution, even if they could’ve gotten the tranquilizer there in time.

“Even if we did have a tranquilizer gun...they weren’t even sure if they were going to be able to shoot it,” Sturgeon said. “They had nothing they could transport such a large animal with.”

‘First bear’

It’s the only run-in with a bear Sturgeon can recall in his 25 years with the police department.

“This is the first bear we’ve dealt with,” he said.

The bear may have been the same one wounded when an officer shot it in Savage May 23, but Sturgeon said it’s uncertain how the bear put down in West St. Paul had been previously injured.

After the bear was killed, the DNR issued a permit to a resident who obtained the bear for butchering.

Bears can be used for their meat and their hides.

“If it does have to be put down, we really like it to be put to use,” Salo said.

Although some may find the situation unfortunate, Salo noted black bears are already hunted to control the population, among other bear management strategies.

“It’s sad that you have to sometimes put down a bear, but, in the larger picture, it’s bear management,” he said.

The bears spotted throughout the metro are most likely younger bears kicked out of another area by older bears, Salo said.

“They’re looking for new territory,” he said. “It’s kind of like a glass of water: Put too much into it and it’s overflowing.”

Kaitlyn Roby can be reached at 651-748-7815 and kroby@ lillienews.com. Follow her at twitter.com/KRobyNews.

When bears become problems

It’s common for a few young bears to wander into the metro area in the spring, according to Greg Salo, regional enforcement captain at the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

Residents have reported bear sightings in Inver Grove Heights, Mendota Heights and throughout other area suburbs.

When bears come out of hibernation, they look for food, sometimes wandering into residential areas in their search, according to the DNR. That’s when problems arise.

“When human-related food is easy to find, bears stop seeking their natural foods,” said John Williams, DNR northwest regional wildlife manager in a statement last month. “These bears eventually get into trouble because they return again and again.”

The DNR said bears that become a nuisance when they return to food sources near humans tend to be killed instead of relocated. Relocated bears don’t usually stay where they’re released, but may go back to where they were caught or become a problem somewhere else.


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