Bear Found Near Rumsey Park Destroyed

Game and Fish decision questioned by neighbors

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A 200-pound black bear that wandered into a residential area near Rumsey Park was euthanized by Arizona Game and Fish personnel Friday.

The bear was chased up a tree by a dog in the back yard of Payson resident Pat Callahan who lives in the 200 block of Bronco Circle, just south of the park.

"My friend came over with his dog," Callahan said. "The dog came through the house and went flying out the back door. Evidently he smelled something, and he wanted out very bad. He chased the bear right up a large tree in our back yard."

Local Game and Fish employees Henry Apfel, a wildlife manager, and Craig McMullen, a field supervisor, responded to a call for assistance. When they tranquilized the male bear, it fell approximately 30 to 40 feet to the ground.

"To get him out of the tree we had to tranquilize him and unfortunately he injured himself when he came out of the tree," McMullen said. "We ended up having to destroy him because he was injured when he fell."

The bear was taken from the neighborhood and euthanized elsewhere after an examination determined the extent of the injury.

"When we capture a bear, we do a health check externally and we could feel that his shoulder was broken from the fall," McMullen said.

A necropsy was then performed, from which the two officials determined that the bear's stomach and intestines were completely empty.

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Arizona Game and Fish employees Craig McMullen and Henry Apfel receive assistance from residents to carry a tranquilized black bear from the back yard of a home on Bronco Circle in Payson Friday morning.

"Externally he looked healthy, but when we did a little investigating there obviously was some other issue there because his gut was completely empty from stem to stern," McMullen said. "There was nothing in his small intestine, all the way through to his colon -- nothing."

There was no indication that the bear was rabid.

"It wasn't exhibiting the sorts of behavior that caused us to worry about (rabies)," he said.

Callahan said euthanizing the bear seemed excessive.

"I could understand putting the bear down if there were serious internal injuries, but if it was just broken bones then I don't think it should've been destroyed," she said. "I don't know what he was doing in a residential neighborhood, but he really wasn't hurting anyone."

Cathe Descheemaker, a ranger at the Tonto Natural Bridge State Park who has a wildlife-holding permit from Southwest Wildlife Rehabilitation, said it's not surprising the animal was hurt.

"From that high position, any animal shot out of a tree will be injured," Descheemaker said.

But McMullen said there was really no alternative.

"It's just a function of the circumstances," he said. "If you've got a bear in the middle of town in a tree during daylight hours, we've got to get it out of there and there's really no way to do it besides tranquilizing it and having it fall.

"We've caught many bears this way and had them come down out of the trees uninjured, but occasionally, it's just sheer odds, one will get injured."

Linda Searles, executive director of Southwest Wildlife, said her agency has two orthopedic surgeons who have repaired similar injuries the bear sustained.

"I've seen them put fractures together that were just splinters," she said. "If we got something in like that we would do X-rays. It's certainly nothing we could determine in the field."

Descheemaker said that the two Game and Fish officials were no doubt following procedure, and that bears are routinely destroyed ever since the agency was sued when a bear mauled a 16-year-old girl in 1996 on Mt. Lemmon near Tucson.

"Since Game and Fish lost that lawsuit, they do not relocate any bears," she said. "The fact that bear was in town was its death warrant."

McMullen, however, said that while the bear appeared healthy on the outside and exhibited no behavior that could be considered hostile or aggressive, something just wasn't right.

"My guess based on the necropsy is that there was some factor that was causing him to either not feed or to be unable to feed," he said. "That's probably what caused his abnormal behavior -- coming to town (when there was plenty to eat in the forest). We haven't had any bear problems all summer."

Although it apparently wasn't a factor in this case, Descheemaker warned people not to leave food around that might attract bears.

"I see people every day leaving food out on their picnic tables, welcoming bears," she said. "Everyone needs to be more careful not to leave their food laying around."

Callahan cautioned people to remember that Payson is, for the most part, in the middle of a wilderness.

"We've invaded their territory," she said. "We've built our homes in their home and we need to remember that. We need to respect that."

"It's an absolute tragedy," Searles said.

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