Game And Fish Policy Mandated Killing Bear

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Local Arizona Game and Fish personnel were following department policy when they destroyed the 200-pound black bear captured near Rumsey Park last Friday.

"(Field Supervisor) Craig (McMullen) definitely did the right thing in this situation and acted according to policy," Mike Senn, head of field operations for Arizona Game and Fish, said.

McMullen and Henry Apfel, a wildlife manager for Game and Fish, tranquilized the treed bear. After the bear fell 30 to 40 feet to the ground, they hauled it away from the 200 block of Bronco Circle and destroyed it.

McMullen said the bear had to be put down because he broke his shoulder in the fall, but Senn said the bear's death knell was the fact that he was an adult male.

"This was a 200-pound adult male bear confined in a high-traffic area near a school," he said. "The decision to remove the bear was a matter of public safety."

Game and Fish policy classifies bears as category I, II or III. Because the Rumsey Park bear had not caused property damage and had not been observed in the area before, it fell into category II, making it eligible for relocation.

But because the bear was an adult male, it got bumped to category I, which is for bears that have caused injury or been previously captured or relocated. According to Game and Fish policy, "all category I bears will be destroyed..."

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After being tranquilized and falling from a tree, it took four grown men to carry this 200-pound black bear out of a back yard on Bronco Circle.

Senn explained the rationale.

"Large adult male bears are responsible for more than 90 percent of attacks on people," he said.

Leo Egar, a veterinarian and field director for the Humane Society of the United States, has provided medical treatment for bears at Southwest Wildlife, an acclaimed rehabilitation facility in the Valley. Southwest executive director Linda Searle said her facility would have taken the injured bear.

Speaking to the Roundup from Hattiesburg, Miss., where he is heading animal relief efforts following Hurricane Katrina, Egar questioned the very foundation of the Game and Fish policy -- that all adult male bears must be destroyed because they're more dangerous.

"I've not encountered anything in the literature in that regard," Egar said. "The classical way to describe it is that the female bear is more of a problem when they have young."

Egar also said that such a policy should be subject to public scrutiny.

"That sounds an awful lot like the statement that X breed of dog is more dangerous, and you have experts arguing on both sides of that," he said. "Any sort of agency that has oversight responsibility for any public resource - and bears are majestic parts of our national heritage -- is entrusted with their care.

"The process of representative government should have some oversight on that determination, so people who feel otherwise can make their views known, so there's kind of a negotiated solution."

Egar said a catch-all policy for adult male bears is not the answer, that each case should be examined individually.

"I don't want to jump up and down on these guys too much, but in a situation like this -- the bear is up in a tree -- is that really an emergency," he said. "Is that something we have to handle right this instant, or can we call (Southwest) or another rehabber in the state?

Egar said the bear's broken shoulder, if indeed it was broken, could have been repaired at Southwest.

"It would depend entirely on exactly what the damage was," he said. "I don't know that and Game and Fish doesn't know that because they didn't do any diagnostics; they didn't take any X-rays."

But Senn emphasized that his agency's policy is based on putting people first.

"Nobody likes to destroy an animal," he said. "It's one of the things our guys hate the worst, but the safety of the public just has to come first."

That means the only option for the Rumsey Park bear would have been to remain at Southwest Wildlife, and Senn said wildlife advocacy groups are adamantly opposed to captivity.

"I'm not knocking Linda Searle," he said. "She does an excellent job, but she's already got several bears down there. What are you doing besides saving an individual bear? What value is it?"

For Egar, a question lingers.

"You assume everyone goes out (in the field) with good intentions, so no one is criticizing," he said. "But the question is: could things have been done better? Quite possibly."

See original story: Bear found near Rumsey Park destroyed

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