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Bears shot at Fulton County residence

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Photo courtesy of Arkansas Game and Fish Commission
Adrenaline got the best of a man in Union on Oct. 10, when he was called to his mother's home to protect her and her sister from a mother bear and her three cubs.

The sow and three cubs were shot by Bruce Knapp, 48, of Pineville. The sow and one of the cubs was shot out of a tree on the property, then Knapp walked across the road where the other two cubs were and shot them, said Brian Gaskins, wildlife officer for the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission.

Gaskins responded to Knapp's call on Oct. 10 to the AGFC, after he had shot the four bears. He retrieved the bears and spoke with Knapp and his mother, the property owner, and his aunt, the driver of the vehicle who discovered the bears on the property.

"(Knapp's mother) was a bit scared because of the bears," Gaskins said. She had been in the home at the time the bears were discovered. "We've had reports of bears out there for many years, but this was her first time seeing them so she was kind of shook up."

The aunt pulled up in her vehicle and saw the bears. Her presence startled the sow that then jumped into the dog pen, next to the house where Knapp's mother remained. The dog pen was covered by a solid wooden fence facing the street, Gaskin said.

The aunt began honking her horn, and the sow jumped out of the dog pen over the fence. One of the three cubs went up a tree about 20 yards from the front porch of the residence. The sow went with her cub. The other two cubs were across the road, where they remained while the aunt and mother called Knapp, Gaskin said.

Knapp then came over to discover the sow and her cub making noise in the tree. He shot the sow and cub then proceeded across the road and shot the other two cubs, who had become startled and were making noises, Gaskins said.

"The bears were up a tree growling or making noises, they were scared with the noise excitement," he said. Gaskin estimated that the cubs were born in the spring 2009.

"As far I could tell this bear has not been caught and tagged," Gaskins said, from which he was able to infer that the sow was not a nuisance bear.

"The bears had not done any damage at this point," Gaskins said. "They were just there. Chances are they were just looking for food or smelled something, whether it be table scraps dog food, whatever it may be. The other two that ran off were of no danger to anyone. The cubs were small cubs. It was just through adrenaline, excitement with four bears."

The initial reaction of seeing a bear in the woods can lead to a defensive reaction, but the best reaction is to leave the bear alone.

"If you see them, just avoid them," Gaskins said.

"If a person has a problem with a bear, and it's doing damage, not just being seen, they live in the woods, don't take it upon yourself to shoot them. Call us and we will get the right personnel out there to take care of it. Just seeing a bear is not a bad thing," Gaskins said.

"In this situation, I feel that if they would have just went in the house the sow and the cub would have come down the tree and left the residence," Gaskins said. If the AGFC had been called instead of the bears being shot, a state biologist would have set a trap and tried to relocate the animals.

"Just because a bear is there, you don't shoot it," Gaskins said. "In this situation the cub went up a tree so the sow followed it. If the cub would have followed the other two then they all would have left out of the yard."

Gaskins ticketed Knapp on Oct. 16 with failure to comply with depredation permit requirement, after consulting with AGFC personnel.

Depredation Permit Requirement, AGFC Code 18.09, reads "It shall be unlawful for any person, including a property owner or designee, to take or attempt to take any game or furbearing animal committing damage to crops or personal property without obtaining a Depredation Permit and complying with the terms of said permit."

Knapp was ticketed and will go before district court on Nov. 11. He will be liable for a fine of $100 to $1,000, according to the AGFC Code.

Although the bears had not done any damage to the property, the AGFC took the requirement as penalty under the circumstance of the situation, Gaskins said.

If a nuisance bear is discovered on private property, the AGFC should be called. Damage caused by a bear can then be examined and a degradation permit can be retested, and if need be, an AGFC biologist can trap the bear(s) and relocate them, Gaskins said.

Television programs can send a bad message about bears, when the only bear experience is a growling set of teeth.

"These are black bears not brown or Grissly," Gaskins said. "They eat fruit, berries, insects and small mammals."

Gaskins has served in the AGFC since 1985. He has observed the black bear in its native Arkansas habitat, and has never had to handle an incident where a black bear was showing aggression toward a human, he said.

"Most of it was getting in the barn eating sweet feed, breaking in to a hunting cabin after smelling bacon or scraps, pushing screens in and doors in and just looking for food," he said. "It smells food and is wanting to eat."

This is the second reported, unauthorized killing of bears this season. A dead bear was dumped in Seymour, Mo., in mid-September.

Bear hunting season has been conducted in Arkansas annually since 1980. The seasons are listed as follows: archery, Oct. 1 to Nov. 30; muzzling loading, Oct. 17 to 25; modern gun, Nov. 9 to Nov. 30. Anyone that has a valid hunting license has a bag limit of one bear.

"What we are trying to achieve is a maximum numbers of bears that can sustain a healthy bear population," said Myron Means, statewide black bear program coordinator for AGFC. Bears are unique, and even though the landscape can support the population the human tolerance to bear population may be well under what the habitat can support, Means said.

"Bears are the only thing that you have this type of issue with. We really have to govern our bear population on the sociological carrying capacity not to the habitat population," he said.

The AGFC monitors bear populations throughout Arkansas and the complaints that come with them. A lot of a management of the bear population is based on nuisance activities, Means said.

"It is kind of strange that people are new to bear issues. Any time that you have areas on the fringes of bear populations as they expand, you are going to have a lot of people that have never had bear around. When bear start showing up in these areas, naturally, those people are going to be more fearful and less tolerant than people smack dab in the middle of bear country."

That "bear country" is defined as the Ozark/St. Francis National Forest, which runs from the Oklahoma line into White County. Fringe areas to the north, such as Izard, Sharp and Fulton counties, are expected to have a bear population.

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