The Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office should do more to justify why it recently killed a young black bear in Royal Palm Beach.
Suggestion: Maybe say the bear seemed to have a “shiny object” in its paw, or refer to the bear as “Yogi the culprit”.
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Because if you read the incident report later filed by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), it is clear that the decision by the sheriff’s office’s upper chain of command to kill the bear was not neither shared by officers at the scene nor requested by state bear experts who were consulted in real time and had concluded that the young bear was not a threat to people.
Stray bear causes concern
On the morning of June 18, FWC officer Lonnie Brevik was on duty in Loxahatchee when the sheriff’s office requested assistance with a bear that had wandered into the Saratoga Lakes neighborhood of Royal Palm Beach.
It is believed that there are over 4,000 Florida black bears in the state. It is a protected species that inhabits eight isolated communities across the state and is becoming increasingly vulnerable to human interaction as the habitats of the state’s residents continue to expand.
Royal Palm Beach is not bear country, but males can travel over 100 miles, especially during mating season. And with an estimated population of around 1,000 bears living on the southern end of the peninsula, it’s rare, but not unheard of, for bears to make their way into western communities in Palm Beach County.
While on his way to Royal Palm Beach, the wildlife officer contacted a department biologist, Sean McHugh. When Brevik arrived on the scene, he was greeted by sheriff’s deputies and another FWC officer, Jason Willems.
The sheriff’s office, using a drone, had spotted the bear, which was identified as a juvenile male weighing approximately 200 pounds.
Brevik noted in his report that, on the advice of his department’s biologist, he and the other FWC officer approached the bear to see how it would behave and whether it would back away from the officers and get “confused.” ” on a pine tree. tree.
The bear stays in the tree to avoid people
“Officer Willems and I approached the juvenile Florida black bear and easily turned it into a tree using our voices to scream and walk towards the bear,” Brevik wrote. “The juvenile Florida black bear appeared to be afraid of humans as it climbed the tree to avoid us.”
Brevik then waited for instructions, as the highest ranks in the FWC chain of command were briefed on the situation. These discussions included Florida Bear Management Program Coordinator Dave Teleso and his assistant Mike Orlando.
They decided that the bear should not be tranquilized in the tree because of the injuries it might sustain from falling. That tranquilizing the bear would only be an option once the bear is on the ground.
There was also a problem getting a trapper with a tranquilizer gun to the scene that Saturday morning. A captive wildlife investigator in the area said he had a tranquilizer gun, but needed to arrange child care to be able to leave the house.
Agencies disagree on bear’s fate
The fate of the tree bear was the subject of a conference call that morning between “several bear biologists” in Tallahassee. And they finally decided the best thing to do was to leave the bear alone.
If left alone, they believed the bear would climb down the tree, avoid humans, and find its way to a suitable place to live.
Previk noted that the bear was near many suitable habitats, including a wooded area just over half a mile to the southwest; the Grassy Water Preserve, about a mile to the east; the JW Corbett Wildlife Management Area, about eight miles to the northwest; and the Arthur R. Marshall Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge, about nine miles to the southwest.
The FWC informed the sheriff’s office that the decision had been made to leave the bear alone and monitor its movements, giving it time to find suitable habitat.
“I relayed the action plan to the PBSO deputy on scene and he relayed the information to his sergeant by telephone, giving his chain of command the action plan and giving him the contact details of my lieutenant. if he had any questions,” Previk wrote.
“I informed the two PBSO deputies on site that I would stay on site and watch for the Florida black bear.”
But about half an hour later, Previk said a deputy told them they had been ordered to shoot and kill the bear as soon as it came down from the tree, where it had been since. almost four hours.
Previk wrote that he told the deputies not to shoot the bear, prompting deputies, who did not want to shoot the bear, to tell their lieutenant.
“The PBSO Lt. said he had approval from the PBSO chain of command to kill the Florida black bear,” Previk wrote.
Previk told him that the sheriff’s office “was not authorized by FWC to kill the bear.”
As the bear began to descend from the tree, “the two PBSO deputies tasked with grabbing their issued shotguns were also yelling at the bear to keep him from falling,” Previk wrote.
“The Florida black bear seemed scared and didn’t want to be in that tree anymore,” Previk said.
It slowly slid down the tree trunk and when it reached the ground, deputies followed orders to kill the bear with four shotgun blasts.
“The bear was moving to get away from officers and deputies when it was shot and killed,” Previk wrote. “The bear showed no signs of aggression when it came out of the tree.”
“The juvenile black bear was never a safety hazard while I was at the scene,” Previk wrote.
In some cases, the FWC decides during these bear encounters that the best course of action is to kill the bear to protect human life. For example, in January, a woman walking her dog at night in DeBary, Volusia County, startled an adult female bear with three cubs.
The mother bear pawed the woman, causing her forehead to bleed, then briefly chased her down the street. When FWC officers arrived, the bear and her three year-old cubs were in a tree.
In this case, FWC officials decided to shoot and kill the adult mother bear, leaving three orphaned cubs, due to her potential threat to human life.
PBSO pleads for danger with the bear
Even though FWC made it clear that the young bear killed in Royal Palm Beach by the sheriff’s office was not a threat to people, the sheriff’s office later highlighted the bear’s threat in a public statement that justified its decision to shoot to kill.
The sheriff’s office statement called the bear a danger to residents of the community, giving it an extra hundred pounds and calling it “big” instead of “juvenile.”
“The bear had NO safe place to roam!” underlined the press release. “Fearing that the bear was wandering into residential communities and/or impeding traffic on adjacent roads, PBSO had to make the decision to unload its shotguns by striking and killing the bear.”
The sheriff’s office’s explanation was also intended to make the FWC a partner, rather than a critic, in its decision-making. The sheriff’s office said the decision to shoot the bear was made because the wildlife department did not find a trapper with a tranquilizer gun before the bear climbed down the tree. And that FWC agreed to the sheriff’s office shooting the bear for “public safety.”
All contradicted by the report subsequently published by the FWC.
The sheriff’s office’s explanation also underscored its public safety rationale. He noted that before the bear climbed that tree, a Saratoga Lakes mother with three young children saw the bear very close to the back of her home.
“After hearing her dog bark, she noticed a black bear inside her covered back porch, about five feet from her back slider, an area where her children normally play,” the sheriff’s report read. “The bear looked in her direction, which put her in awe for her and her family’s lives.”
Now that it’s clear that the state wildlife department isn’t buying the bear threat angle, it may be necessary for the sheriff’s office to take it to the next level.
Adjust the narrative so that the descended bear rushes at the officers. don’t try to run away when he’s been shot. Classify deputies as victims of criminal acts according to Marsy’s law.
And let IT know that photographs from the scene may require photo-shopping a handgun into the bear’s dead paw.
Frank Cerabino is a columnist for the Palm Beach Post, part of the USA TODAY Florida Network. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Help support our journalism. Subscribe today.