This 90-pound yearling black bear in downtown Long Lake was shot and killed by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation because it was being a nuisance and getting too close to humans because people were feeding it.
Colleen Smith is so upset that an environmental conservation officer killed a black bear here that she’s writing a letter to Gov. Andrew Cuomo, requesting an investigation into the incident.
New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) staff shot the 90-pound, female yearling Sept. 25 after classifying it as a nuisance bear. But Smith didn’t agree with the decision.
“That bear was not a nuisance; it was considered a joy,” Smith said. “They want to vilify these animals; it has polarized this town.”
Smith recalled living through the days when bears routinely patrolled garbage dumps in the Adirondacks and said that the animals never posed a threat to humans.
But some bears in the park, like the one recently shot, are still getting a free meal even though the dump days are long gone.
“I took care of that little bear because no one else wanted to take care of it,” said Bernadett Morrissey, who lives on South Hill Road in downtown Long Lake.
Morrissey fed the bear a mixture of milk and maple syrup after it showed up on her property about five months ago.
“That little thing came to the house, and it was crying and crying,” Morrissey said.
The bawling bear enjoyed the easy meal and began to frequent her yard, so Morrissey started to prepare nightly feasts for it, sometimes offering big bowls of macaroni and potatoes.
Soon, the animal made itself comfortable.
“I have an opening under my porch, and that bear at nighttime would come, and he’d get underneath there and sleep,” Morrissey said.
Morrissey said she called Tupper Lake-based state troopers, who said they would come out and shoot it, but she didn’t like that idea, so she kept feeding it.
And then, to her surprise, a DEC environmental conservation officer showed up with a firearm on Sept. 25 and walked onto her property, where the bear was sitting.
“He shot it twice,” Morrissey said. “He shot it in the shoulder and he shot it in the head.”
Dixie LeBlanc, a wildlife rehabilitator and town clerk for Long Lake, said the recent bear shooting has brought a bigger problem to light.
“I’m not happy about any of it, but it wasn’t a bear problem—it was a people problem,” LeBlanc said. “People were feeding it, and when that happens it always ends badly for the bear.”
Some residents around the community claimed the bear’s mother had been hit by a vehicle, leaving it orphaned, but LeBlanc said that, given the bear’s age, which she estimated at about one-and-a-half years, the mother bear might have recently weaned the youngster.
LeBlanc added that her goal is to use this incident as a learning tool, and that she wants to organize meetings next spring to tell people how to best prevent animals from becoming accustomed to human interaction.
“You know, we’re living here with these animals, and we’re not doing them any favors,” LeBlanc said. “When I saw him, I think I could have walked up to him and fed him. That’s how accustomed to people he was.”
Some Long Lake residents are still angry about the shooting, and some have said that a Ray Brook-based DEC staffer was on scene with a culvert trap, and that the bear’s life could have been spared.
DEC spokesperson Dave Winchell acknowledged that someone was there with a trap, but that the plan was still to shoot the bear after transporting it to a different location.
“Because it had lost its fear of humans and was actively approaching humans seeking food, this became a public safety hazard,” Winchell said. “It’s been documented that bears that do that eventually become more aggressive when they don’t receive food from people, and we’re not going to let it proceed to that point.”
Winchell said the DEC always conducts an investigation, which includes speaking to witnesses, before the decision is made to shoot an animal.
The bear shot on Morrissey’s property fit the description of a bear the DEC had been receiving calls about, an animal that was visiting trash cans at the local Stewart’s and making rounds in people’s yards, one of which had an apple tree that the bear particularly enjoyed.
“The thing that really concerned us with this one is the fact that it had approached a young child,” Winchell said, referring to a report made recently to the DEC.
So far this year, the DEC has killed seven black bears in Region 5, which Long Lake is in, and at least seven in Region 6 in the western Adirondacks.
A high bear population and the dry summer are thought to be the reason for the increase in nuisance bears.
Winchell stressed that feeding the animals puts them at risk, and that it is also illegal.
To avoid tempting bears, people should also put their garbage cans, pet food and bird feeders indoors at night, where they aren’t easily accessible.
Studies also show that bears that have become accustomed to human interaction are more likely to get hit by motor vehicles because they are closer to civilization than bears eating food in the wild, according to Winchell.
“The biggest word that we’re trying to get out with this event is that it could have been avoided if people had not fed the bear,” Winchell said. “The important thing is for people not to feed bears, either directly or indirectly.”