ROYAL PALM BEACH – Palm Beach County sheriff’s deputies should not have shot and killed a young Florida black bear last week, hours after he was seen wandering a neighborhood backyard residential, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission said.
The state agency released a report late Friday noting its disappointment with PBSO’s handling of the situation that resulted in the death of a Florida-protected species.
“Killing bears is usually the last course of action and is usually driven by concerns about public safety,” the FWC report said. He also advised MPs to receive training on how to respond when bears are found near homes.
The best course of action is usually to allow the bear to move away from any home and back into the wild, FWC said.
It came a day after the shooting when residents of a gated community in Naples spotted a mature, medium-sized Florida black bear wandering around their sidewalks, garages and porches. Instead of calling FWC or local police, residents waited inside their homes until the bear left the neighborhood.
While FWC says it did not authorize the sheriff’s office to kill the bear, PBSO said Monday it stood by its decision, saying deputies should protect residents of nearby neighborhoods.
“We believe we were in a public safety situation,” spokeswoman Teri Barbera said. “We had to make this decision.”
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How a Royal Palm Beach neighborhood found a bear in a tree
Black bears are native to Florida but are rarely seen in Palm Beach County, according to the FWC report. The shy and generally unaggressive bears’ mating season begins in June when juveniles, like the one shot at Royal Palm Beach, separate from their mothers and move on to other habitats.
Susan Hargreaves, who has been a South Florida wildlife advocate for decades, said she was disappointed with the lack of training for Palm Beach County deputies.
“These officers didn’t wake up that morning thinking, ‘Now I’m going to kill a bear,'” said Hargreaves, who founded the Animal Kid’s Hero charity. “But they need to be educated. It’s that simple.”
She began dealing with endangered species in Fort Lauderdale in the 1980s and now provides wildlife education to local groups and also writes children’s books centered on animal protection. This month, a bear with similar characteristics to the one in Royal Palm Beach was reported near her home at Jupiter Farms.
“If the bear had been left alone, it would have gone away,” she said.
Neighbors in Saratoga Lakes, a community off Crestwood Boulevard west of Royal Palm Beach Boulevard, alerted deputies to the bear around 8 a.m. Saturday. They reported seeing a 6-foot, 300-pound black bear wandering through trees and neighborhood backyards.
FWC officers and PBSO deputies arrived on Belmont Drive at 8:09 a.m., where they began following the bear until it was climbing a tree in a family’s yard, the report said. of the FWC.
The bear descended after a short time and wandered west before climbing a tall pine tree alongside a neighbor’s fence. For nearly four hours, FWC officers and deputies yelled at the bear and turned on their sirens in an attempt to stop the bear from descending the tree.
At first, FWC personnel tried to locate a trapper and a tranquilizer gun, but none were available nearby, according to the report. Then the members decided not to recommend trapping because they couldn’t be sure the bear would get in. They also concluded that shooting the bear with a tranquilizer gun out of fear could cause it to fall from the tree and injure itself.
According to agency protocol, if the bear is not a threat, it should return to its natural habitat so that it does not have to be harmed or forcibly removed.
“A bear that is easily spooked by people is not a security threat,” the FWC statement read.
The agency’s team biologist in Tallahassee ordered FWC officers to leave the bear alone and escort it from a distance until it reached a safe habitat.
PBSO says it had authority to shoot over FWC objections
PBSO deputies informed the Commanding Sergeant that FWC officers would let the bear roam but, according to the FWC report, they were then ordered to put the bear down if it came down from the tree before a trapper arrives on the scene.
After a four-hour standoff, the bear climbed down the tree around 12:30 p.m. and walked away from the officers, showing no signs of aggression when PBSO deputies shot the bear four times, the report said. .
The bear collapsed to the ground after the first shot, as it tried to move a second officer fired two shots. The officer who fired the first bullet then “took a merciful shot so the bear wouldn’t suffer,” a sheriff’s report said.
FWC staff members then drove the bear’s body to their Jupiter office.
“The two deputies with shotguns told me they didn’t want to shoot the Florida black bear,” the FWC officer wrote in the report. “The deputies followed the orders of the PBSO and not the action plan of the FWC.”
The sheriff’s office was not authorized by the FWC to kill the bear, according to the agency’s report. And despite constant reminders at the scene that the bear was a protected species, the senior sheriff’s officer at the scene said his agency had chain of command authority to put him down.
The commander made the decision because there was no safe place nearby for the bear to go alone, Barbera said.
“PBSO believed there was a danger to public safety in this community,” Barbera said. “Going north, south, east and west, there are only residential areas, roads and businesses.”
The FWC report, however, identified four nearby wildlife areas where the bear could have gone, two of which were within 3 km.
“FWC bear experts did not consider killing the bear since FWC law enforcement at the scene never observed any indication that the bear posed a threat to public safety,” reads -on in the report.
The sheriff’s office said it has no staff trained to deal with wildlife incidents. For this reason, he does not have a tranquilizer gun which can only be administered by animal specialists.
“We did what we thought we had to do at the time,” Barbera said, adding that the deputies involved in the incident were not under internal investigation. “We are looking to area vets to see whether or not there is someone available to help them should the need arise,”
Activists hope this incident will educate county residents and the sheriff’s office to learn to live with wildlife.
“We Floridians, whether we’re native or adopted, we have to respect the fact that we’re moving into their home,” Hargreaves said. “It is imperative that we educate others about wildlife coexistence.”
Valentina Palm covers Royal Palm Beach, Wellington, Loxahatchee and other western Palm Beach County communities for The Palm Beach Post. Follow her on Twitter: @ValenPalmB.