State wildlife agents investigate bear shooting
November 16, 2010
By Warren Kagarise
Gunshot wound prompted veterinarians to euthanize paralyzed animal
The black bear trapped in a damp ditch near Issaquah Highlands puzzled state wildlife agents.
The animal — moaning in pain and hypothermic from the frigid rainwater in the ditch — did not appear to be injured as state Department of Fish and Wildlife agents scrambled to diagnose the tranquilized bear. The animal later had to be euthanized due to a bullet wound.
The wildlife team had responded Nov. 11 to a call from a homeowner concerned about a bear cub trapped in a logjam in a backyard near Highlands Drive Northeast and Southeast Black Nugget Road.
“It didn’t appear to have any injuries,” Capt. Bill Heibner said. “It appeared to be a very healthy bear with a very thick black coat, ready for hibernation and very fat.”
Even after wildlife agents transported the sedated animal to a Lynnwood wildlife facility, clues remained elusive.
“We had a dickens of a time finding anything wrong with him,” Heibner said. “There just didn’t appear to be anything.”
So, the team transferred the otherwise-healthy animal to a pen to see if the animal recovered overnight.
“We put him in the pen and figured that in 12 hours he would work through the anesthetic and the immobilization drugs,” Heibner said. “As we put him in there, we developed the film on that second set of X-rays and discovered a bullet had lodged in his spine.”
The bear — a male about a year old and weighing 135 pounds — had to be euthanized the next morning.
The gunshot caused permanent nerve damage and left the rear half of the bear paralyzed. The mystery lingered after veterinarians had to put the animal down.
“Once that bullet was discovered, of course, that added two new chapters to this whole thing as far as I’m concerned,” Heibner said.
The discovery prompted a criminal investigation.
The state classifies unlawful hunting of big game as a felony. Upon conviction, the Department of Fish and Wildlife revokes all hunting licenses or tags, and suspends the violator’s hunting privileges for 10 years. The penalty also includes a $2,000 fine.
Though the state classifies the black bear as a game animal, killing a black bear in self-defense, or to defend someone else, should be reasonable and justified. The bear must pose a threat of serious physical harm.
Veterinarians conducted a necropsy on the bear carcass late last week to find other clues related to the gunshot injury. Heibner also called on other residents in the unincorporated King County neighborhood to offer any details about the case.
“Hopefully, this bear didn’t die for nothing and we’re able to learn from this and change our behavior before any more bears have to come this kind of a sad end,” he said.
Heibner said another bear of about the same age had accompanied the injured bear. The state received a report of a bear in a garbage can in the neighborhood the morning after the rescue.
The incident is the latest in several autumn bear sightings reported by Issaquah-area residents.
Experts said bears had been more active in suburban settings throughout the fall because the crop of late-summer wild berries — a key part of the animals’ natural diet — is in short supply. The situation has prompted bears to roam farther in order to find other food sources, such as garbage containers.
Washington residents should receive a reprieve soon as bears enter hibernation by late November.
“Come March or April, we need to remind ourselves that we’ve got bear in the neighborhood,” Heibner said.
Sylvia Moss, a spokeswoman for the PAWS center in Lynnwood, praised the homeowner for taking the proper step after discovering the bear.
“The homeowner did the right thing in calling the Department of Fish and Wildlife,” she said.
Warren Kagarise: 392-6434, ext. 234, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.