DWR alarmed at number of bears shot and killed in recent weeks

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SALT LAKE CITY -- There's no question there seems to be many more bear sightings this summer, but five bears shot dead in just days is unheard of in Utah.

Last year, no one is known to have killed a bear outside of the hunting season, but the five shot this year were all killed within two weeks. Now the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources is voicing concerns over how people are dealing with the bears.

Last week, the Harris family took a trip to a cabin at Pines Ranch, near Oakley. The family had just arrived a few minutes before a bear showed up.

"There was this huge bear, and it started climbing on our fence and was trying to reach the bird feeder. And that's when I started screaming down the hall, ‘There's a bear!' said Payton Harris.

Very frightened, the family waited until the bear left and then drove down the canyon to notify authorities.

"I felt dumb calling 911 to let them know there was a bear in the mountains, but they took it very seriously and were so good and came up and said they are dangerous," Aimee Harris said.

The DWR hopes you will call in too if you encounter a bear in a place people frequent. Of the recent cases of bears being shot to death, the DWR says in most of them they didn't even know about the problem bear until it was dead.

"To have five black bears taken in a couple of weeks, it's got us wondering why folks are doing that," said DWR spokesman Mark Hadley.

The DWR realizes the Pleasant Grove boy killed by a bear two years ago is still on people's minds, but officers believe using deadly force is a last step.

Officers point to cases like one in 2002 when a bear was found in a tree along a small town's Main Street. That bear was caught and released in the mountains.

DWR officers routinely trap and move problem bears to new areas without incident. Pulling out a gun and shooting just because you encounter a bear could lead to charges if the bear is poses no threat.

"These bears are protected just like deer and elk and all the other wildlife in Utah. Bears are a protected species, and people need to keep that in mind," Hadley said.

So far, only one of the five investigations into the bear shootings has been finished. In that case, no charges will be filed.

Prosecutors in the other jurisdictions will review the evidence before deciding if the people were justified in putting the bears down.

E-mail: spenrod@ksl.com

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