by Scott Hall
A conservation officer with the Minnesota DNR shot and killed a collared black bear on Thursday, Aug. 2, in Eagle Nest Township between Tower and Ely. According to the DNR incident report, the bear had entered a garage where children were present and refused to leave the area.
The agency received a call from upset residents whose children were in their garage when the bear entered it. The residents reported they made repeated unsuccessful attempts to scare the bear away, including using an air horn, and that the bear snarled at them.
Two conservation officers arrived to find the bear still in the area. The bear appeared to have become accustomed to humans through hand feeding. After the bear refused to leave the residence, despite attempts by a conservation officer to frighten it away, the officer killed it.
This story with an unhappy ending got a lot of public attention statewide. Bears are close to the top of my list of favorite wild animals in northern MN, and I understand the outpouring of sympathy for this bear. But are we more concerned about this bear than maintaining habitats that insure healthy wildlife populations? The easy answer is we have concern for both. Easy to say.
Prairies aren't the preferred habitat for bears, but they are home for a lot of game and non-game wildlife like the prairie chicken (left). Most of the native prairies in Minnesota disappeared a long time ago. The DNR sent out a news release about a new prairie conservation plan the same week of the bear shooting, but the death of this single bear generated more headlines than the future of the state's last prairies.
When corn and soybean (or timber) values go up, the importance of habitat takes a back seat. We expect public and private natural resource managers to maintain a balance, but in good and bad economic times there is the constant pressure to extract more.
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