After daylong efforts to safely get a black bear down from a tree in Grand Forks’ University Park, those involved were saddened they were unable to save the bear’s life. Officials said the rescue efforts were complicated by safety concerns caused by a large crowd.
“If it had not become the subject of people’s curiosity, it might’ve survived yesterday,” said Red River Zoo veterinarian Dr. Tom Colville, who assisted in sedating the bear.
Grand Forks Police tried to scare the bear away from town when it was reported near the industrial park around 4:30 a.m. Monday. Lt. Derik Zimmel said officers tried to scare the bear by making loud noises and flashing lights from their vehicles, but the bear headed opposite of the intended direction.
At 9 a.m. it climbed a tree near University Park and later walked toward a neighborhood before settling back in a tall tree in the park.
Police evacuated the area and asked the public to stay away, but Zimmel said large crowds gathered to watch the bear from the edges of the park.
Zimmel said the crowd limited police’s options to remove the animal. They could shoot the bear and risk it surviving and attacking the crowd, close the park and post officers until the bear climbed down and left or to try to sedate and relocate it.
Zimmel said the third option was the safest.
“Public safety always comes first,” he said. “Bear safety was definitely in mind, but it’s pretty far down on the list of priorities in comparison.”
John Williams, northwest regional wildlife supervisor for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources in Bemidji said he prefers to wait for bears to climb down, though it can sometimes take several days.
Few people within the agency have enough training to tranquilize the animals, Williams said. Police also don’t have the medications or licensing needed to sedate a bear, Zimmel said.
Officers don’t carry animal tranquilizers because the medications require specific licensing and training, he said. Police received assistance from UND biology professor Jay Boulanger and later Colville of the Red River Zoo to tranquilize the bear. It was sedated around 7 p.m. and lifted from the tree by one leg using a crane. The bear was loaded into a trailer for relocation and a medical evaluation.
Grand Forks resident Jerry Waletzko said he was upset while watching the situation on television because he felt officials handled the bear inhumanely in the way it was lifted from the tree and loaded into the trailer.
“I find it very offensive how they treated that bear,” he said. “It took eight hours and they couldn’t find a way to treat it more respectfully?”
Colville said officials from the North Dakota Game and Fish Department decided to euthanize the bear because it would likely head into town again if released. Two bears wandered into Grand Forks and East Grand Forks in 2014, and a bear was spotted last month in Michigan, N.D.
The bear also endured extreme stress mixed with heavy doses of sedatives that would have affected its ability to survive after relocation, Colville said.
The black bear population in Minnesota is growing and expanding west, which can push the bears out of their preferred homes in wooded forests, Colville said. It’s likely that more bears could wander into town.
Zimmel said the bear’s euthanization was an unfortunate end to a long day, but said officers “tried everything we could to get the bear out of there alive.”
Colville said he hopes this situation will teach people to stay away from wild animals.
“If you see a wild animal in the wild, respect the animal and leave it alone,” he said.
Herald writer Brad Dokken contributed to this report.
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