Whens Should Bears Be Put Down?

The Black Bear in Question A couple weeks ago, I asked–and tried to answer–the question of when it’s appropriate for us to interfere with nature in our national parks. Today, that question strikes me again, but in a much more specific way: when is it okay to outright kill animals in our parks?

I’m not talking about licensed hunting or fishing, but rather killing as a form of protection. If you’re being attacked, by all means, protect yourself with whatever means available.

The right to defend your life isn’t even up for debate, in my book (although I’m not in favor of citizens carrying guns in our National Parks).

But how about killing a bear that only might hurt you? That’s the question.

A couple of weeks ago, a black bear in Yellowstone National Park wandered into the Canyon Campground and began picking at some campers’ food and messing around with their equipment. According to an article in the National Parks Traveler, this happened at about 3:30 p.m. But rangers were able to coax it away.

It came back a little later, though. And why not? It found some grub and was still hungry. Can’t blame the bear for that. And that’s when the rangers shot and killed the 142-pound animal.

Was it attacking campers? No. Was it actively threatening their lives? Not as far as the report tells us. It just showed up one too many times and paid for its trespassing with its life.

But was it really trespassing? Aren’t we the ones that are trespassing on its territory? Isn’t that the whole point of our national parks system, to preserve an area of nature in all its wild glory?

Bear Country Sign There have been plenty of black bear-related camper deaths in Yellowstone over the years. The NPS website says that there have been a total of nine of them in its 140-year history, with two coming in the last 15 years. So the danger of fatal black bear encounters, though pretty rare, is a valid concern.

RELATED: Learn How to Survive a Grizzly Bear Attack

I am 1,000% behind killing any animal if they pose an immediate threat.

But if you can scare a bear away with verbal or physical threats, as the rangers were able to do with this bear at first, then why not just close that portion of the campground and wait and see how the bear reacts?

Keep a Clean Campground & Keep ’em Away Altogether

Avoiding bear encounters altogether is impossible in a place like Yellowstone, but there are steps you can take to better your chances. A blog published on the Seattle PI website offers a few, 100% accurate tips:

  • Maintain a clean campsite.
  • Be sure to throw away all garbage and refuse in close-lidded containers.
  • Camp at least 100 yards from where you cook and eat.
  • Keep your food well-wrapped and either in your car or suspended ten feet in the air from a tree branch.

This particular black bear in Yellowstone was obviously hungry. It didn’t want to meet new people and trade stories from the trail. It sounds from the article that the campers kept their food well-stored, but that the bear was rummaging through their trash.

Maybe if they’d taken extra care to dispose of their garbage properly, there might not have been an issue. And a bear might have kept its life. That’s a maybe that we can never answer, of course.

What Options Are There

Black Bear in Yellowstone I understand that once a bear gets a taste for human food, it is likely all over. They will continue returning to their place of consumption and might act more aggressively toward humans.

The rangers acted cautiously by removing the bear at first and waiting to see how it would react.

It returned. And so it was killed.

I don’t pretend to know what it’s like for a park ranger to go up against a 142-pound black bear. I don’t pretend to understand the fear the campers felt. And I don’t pretend to have all the answers to the moral questions I’ve posed.

All I’m saying is that execution should be a last resort.

Could they have removed the bear once more and closed down the campsite for a week or 2? Sure, it would have caused discomfort to humans, but we might have saved a bear.

What do you think? Do you agree that killing a bear should be a final option, or are you among those who think it’s better safe than sorry? Let’s chat about it below.


Photo Credits: NPS, Erik R. Trinidad/Discovery News, NPS

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  1. Josee Dunn says

    Why was it the rangers call to kill the bear? Don’t they have a supervisor?
    Why wasn’t an effort made to relocate and collar the bear?
    Or was this a “tight budget” incident?

    • Perry Rosenbloom says

      The rangers are responsible for all euthanizations and relocations. Why they didn’t try to relocate the bear initially is information we are, sadly, not privy to. Instead, we are left only to guess and wonder.

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