The Missouri Department of Conservation has conducted a review of events and decisions surrounding euthanization of a black bear captured July 11 in Joplin and concluded the case was handled according to policy.
The decision to kill the bear prompted backlash from some residents who questioned the decision and wondered why the animal couldn’t have been taken to a zoo or animal sanctuary. The department received numerous comments on its website, emails and telephone calls. Letters also were sent to Gov. Mike Parson.
As part of its assessment, which MDC called an after-action review, there were findings that no zoo or animal sanctuary in Missouri had appropriate permits to take the bear and that no sanctuaries were available for placement, according to documents obtained by The Joplin Globe through an open records request.
“It was determined MDC’s Black Bear Response Guidelines were followed and there was no need for changes to the guidelines,” said MDC spokesman Francis Skalicky on whether any changes resulted to that policy as a result of the Joplin case.
The reports also indicate euthanization was proper because the bear’s behavior escalated during its time in and near a populated area.
Initially, MDC policy instructs staff to advise residents to leave a bear alone and to remove or secure anything that could attract the animal, such as trash or pet food.
But as a bear’s activities escalate to what the guidelines describe as “bear causing property damage or perceived as a threat to human safety,” those guidelines require MDC staff to start a field investigation. That involves not only continuing to advise people to leave the bear alone but also taking steps to try to discourage the bear from remaining in the area by fencing off such things as beehives, gardens and orchards where the bear could feed. Residents also are instructed how to conduct what the department calls “adverse conditioning tactics,” such as making loud noises and shooting at the bear with rubber bullets.
The bear’s capture and resulting euthanization by MDC followed next because the animal was deemed too accustomed to people and food that had become easy pickings in the region.
At the point that local authorities found the bear two blocks off Joplin’s busiest corridor, in a residential area at 11th Street near Peters and Rex avenues, the bear had not been deterred. The policy states that immediate lethal control can be considered when a bear persists in plaguing property and humans.
MDC staff, Joplin police and county officers treed the bear in that area and shot it with two tranquilizer darts so that it could be removed from the city. After it was hit, it began to descend the tree but then fell. The bear was not injured by the darts or the fall, according to MDC. The sleeping bear was then transported in a cage by an MDC agent who met Joshua Wisdom, MDC wildlife damage biologist, near Springfield, where the decision had been made to euthanize the bear by gunshot, according to the documents.
Wisdom and MDC Protection District Supervisor Scott Burger both had authority to euthanize the bear. However, before lethal action was taken, MDC’s wildlife management coordinator, furbearer biologist and wildlife management chief were consulted, according to the department.
The documents also provide a description of the bear’s final journey as it made its way from Newton County into Joplin along the I-49 corridor.
The first report of a bear sighting came Friday, June 28, near I-49 and Gateway Drive.
Jackie Lang, 5532 Gateway Drive, reported to the local MDC office that there had been a black bear sighted by tenants of her mobile home park just south of Shoal Creek. The report was made to Kevin Badgley, manager of the Shoal Creek Conservation Education Center.
Badgley notified other conservation offices of the report by email. He wrote that he gave Lang general information about bears and asked her to convey to her tenants to “be bear aware” and put up things that would attract a hungry bear, such as trash and pet food.
Four days later, on July 2, Wisdom, the wildlife damage biologist, received a call from a Newton County conservation agent that a bear had been seen wandering there for several days.
The agent told Wisdom that he got a call on Saturday, June 29, and “that I might need to attend to a bear that kept visiting a yard throughout the day.” It eventually left, but that night, the agent called again and said, “Well, it left that yard, but now I think it just went up the road and got a man’s bees.”
On Tuesday, July 2, Wisdom talked to Badgley and they discussed “a very visible bear” at the trailer park over the previous four days.
The two locations of the bear sightings were 2.9 miles apart, Wisdom noted: “Currently it appears the bear has moved on, description makes it out to likely be a 2-year-old small male.”
Wisdom noted that bears are a rare occurrence around the area but added, “I have been to this trailer park for a bear about two years ago.”
After that, there were reports of the bear moving north on Reinmiller Road, just west of I-49 and south of Joplin. On Wednesday, July 3, it was sighted near the Flying J Travel Plaza at the intersection of West 32nd Street and I-49.
July 4 surprise
Patricia Jaggers’ Independence Day started with a bang.
At 10:10 a.m., Jaggers’ husband was surprised to see a bear searching their trash can on Osage Orange street near 20th Street and Kenzer Road.
Jaggers said her husband went out to get the newspaper and saw something in the trash can that he first thought was a dog. Then he got a better look at what turned out to be a bear.
“He hollered at me to ‘Get a phone! Get a phone!’ He videotaped it,” she said. She called the sheriff’s department and “as soon as they showed up, (the bear) moseyed into the woods.
“He didn’t do anything or cause any damage,” she said.
The Jaggers realized he was a young bear and wondered if something larger was nearby. Jaggers said she and her husband asked, “Where’s the momma?”
Agents later decided it was a young male that had been chased away by its mother. Sows make male yearlings leave the territory when they are ready to mate again.
Burger also was notified of the incident.
In an email to coworkers, Burger reported, “I responded and visited with the property owner and informed them on several scare tactics they could use if the bear returned.”
Burger drove around the neighborhood and, on the north side, spoke to a resident who said a small bear had been seen the night before. Burger also told that resident about scare tactics to use and to call the department if the bear remained in the area.
Burger reported, “The bear is in a small wooded area south of 20th Street, north of 14th Street, east of Kenzer Road and west of I-249. This is probably the same bear that has been gradually moving through Newton County recently.”
Sean Allen, a resident on Kenzer Road who operates Allen Family Farms and Beehives, soon reported that the bear had been in his neighborhood for several days and was starting to cause damage to his property: tearing a screened window to get into his back porch, knocking the garbage down and starting to damage beehives he keeps.
Burger told Allen he would come by the next day to see if he could locate the bear and try to scare it into leaving the area: “If it appears to be causing more damage and starting to hang around the area, I will also call Wildlife Damage Biologist Josh Wisdom.”
At. 6:10 p.m., Burger sent an email to Wisdom saying, “So far it has just been getting in the garbage cans, but today he’s tearing screens, getting on the back porch and and also starting to damage beehives.
“How much harassing do we do before we consider trap?”
Wisdom sent an email to his coworkers reporting that, based on Burger’s information, the bear had moved north from the Flying J Travel Plaza.
“The bear isn’t doing anything beyond what bears normally do but people are hiding in their houses and not scaring it when they see it,” Wisdom wrote. “My understanding is that, since it has been on our radar it has hit beehives on two separate occasions at two different locations now.”
One of two beekeepers visited by the bear put up an electric wire around his hives.
Wisdom wrote, “So the agents are getting quite a few calls about it being in the trash and bird feeders and just generally being visible but nothing else. Joplin is not a bear town, and people are not prepared or expecting this in that vicinity, so it is requiring a lot of boot-leather there and talking to each individual homeowner.”
Wisdom on July 8 sent an email to three conservation department colleagues about the bear’s visit to Allen Farms.
Allen also told Wisdom the bear had been there every day since July 3.
Wisdom wrote the farm had presses, hives, bees, combs and other things that attract bears: “They also keep a very brushy area to allow bees to get natural foods. There is a surprising number of trees, woods lots in the neighborhood — almost rural but still town; very woolly. So the bear can easily move from house to house during the day and not be seen.”
Wisdom left them motion sensor alarms, an air horn and rubber bullets.
“At one time, the bear had entered the back porch, which is screened in but does not have doors. The bear was eating dog food there and was startled and ran through one of the screens on the way out,” Wisdom reported. “I told them to give it maybe two more nights. Then I would make a decision about trapping.”
His parting words held a foreboding message.
“If it’s really coming everyday since July 3 and waiting another full week, that’s a long time of it building a habit that will be hard to break,” Wisdom wrote to his coworkers.
On the evening of July 9, Allen reported shooting the bear with rubber buckshot from about 10 yards away.
That scooted the animal a little farther east and south of the Allen farm.
Residents of Agatha Lane, south of I-44, and at Whispering Pines Senior Living, 4904 E. Wellridge Road, soon reported sighting the bear.
“This is just a few hundred yards west of the beehives,” reported Wisdom. “There is plenty of wooded corridor between the two locations. Supposedly the bear has been seen there on the lawns but hasn’t gotten into anything,” he said of Whispering Pines.
Wisdom said that unless something drastic happened, he planned to wait until Sunday, July 14, to trap the bear. He said he was reluctant to do that during that week’s extreme heat because he did not want the bear in a trap very long with the heat index topping 100 degrees.
A resident on Agatha Lane, south of I-44, reported that he saw the bear kill and carry off one of his chickens. In response, the resident put the chickens in their coop.
Tim Russell, wildlife regional supervisor for the conservation department, reported that a resident of that area told him there had been social media posts over about a two-week period about sightings of the bear in that area.
After spending about two weeks on the eastern fringe of the city, on July 11, the bear made a wrong turn and ended up in a more heavily populated area within the city limits of Joplin.
In a final response report, MDC agents noted they were called to 11th Street and Peters Avenue in response to information from Joplin police about a black bear. Burger arrived at the scene and made the decision to attempt to tranquilize the bear “due to the close proximity of houses and the perceived danger from the public.”
The Joplin bear became the fourth MDC has euthanized since 2015.
Laura Conlee, a biologist with the Missouri Department of Conservation who specializes in furbearing animals, told the Globe that the agency this summer posted a new estimate of the bear population, at 540 to 840 within the state. That’s a climb from the agency’s baseline estimate seven years ago of 350.