Montana officials kill 7 bears after being fed human food

Bears looking for food  
By: Debbi Gross 

Officials in Montana said they had no choice but to kill seven bears after becoming addicted to human food, according to reports.

It was unusual even by the standards of Montana, where black bears have to be culled from time to time after incidents with humans. Seven bears, including two cubs had to be euthanized because an individual had been feeding them and many others, reportedly for years.

"The last thing we want to do is kill these bears," Lee Anderson, director of Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, said in a statement issued Wednesday by the agency after five bears were killed in recent days. "But we had no choice, because of the danger they pose to local residents." Two more were found and slaughtered later Wednesday.

"This was very unusual," spokesman John Fraley said. "I cannot remember this many bears slaughtered in such a short period of time in the last decade or more in our area." The agency responded after receiving reports that a resident of Heron, a city near the border with Idaho, fed the bears.

"A black male bear weighing 485 pounds and a female weighing about 300 pounds were killed," the agency said. "These are unusually heavy for black bears, reflecting their condition in response to artificial feeding." A woman told the local newspaper, who had been feeding the bears, orphans, many of them, as a way to "teach them to survive in the wild."

"I trained them to flee from equipment and trucks," Barbara Sweeney said, adding that she and her husband had run an animal shelter on their property for 22 years. "He taught them to hibernate, too," she said. "People know I've been doing this for years without any problems,” she said. "If they said something, I would have stopped."

The case is under investigation, and the county prosecutor could bring charges. Montana law prohibits feeding bears and other wildlife. Montana does allow seasonal hunting of black bears, which are not an endangered species. The department said it could not find a zoo willing to take the bears and releasing them elsewhere could pose new problems.

"It would be irresponsible to release these potentially dangerous bears elsewhere when the bears are in such a state," the Department of Wildlife Manager Jim Williams said. These bears have a history of attacking humans, including an attack in the Bob Marshall Wilderness in Montana, he said.

"This is an unfortunate example of how feeding bears directly leads to their death," Jim Satterfield, supervisor of the area where the bears were fed said. "So we tell the public that feeding a bear is like signing their death warrant."

The killed bears were buried in a landfill to avoid contact with humans or wildlife, the agency said.