Police Shoot Bear In Backyard

DNR and Elberton Police plan to work on policy and training to deal with future bear encounters.

Mike Bolton | July 6, 2023

A situation where a police officer shot and killed a bear in the backyard of an Elberton home was an unfortunate situation, but no charges will be brought against the officer, DNR Law Enforcement says.

Elberton Police Chief Scott Marunich said he stands behind the action that the officers took, but his department is receiving training from Georgia’s Department of Natural Resources (DNR). He said a policy is being developed to assist officers in the future.

“We will address any deficiencies that we may have,” he said.

Noah Osborne, a game warden with the DNR Law Enforcement Division Region 2 office, said the correct procedure would have been for the police department to contact wildlife officials who typically tranquilize nuisance bears and relocate them.

Marunich said the bear was the first encountered in the city in the 23 years that he has been there. At about 9 p.m. on Friday, June 23, officers responded to a call at the home on Heard Street and found a 250-bear in the backyard. Officers said the bear was near a busy state highway and an area where people walk, so they decided to dispatch it.

The officers called a taxidermist so the meat would not be wasted, and the taxidermist contacted the Department of Natural Resources and told them of the situation.

“I’ve met with the police chief and the officers involved,” Osborne said. “The police department apparently had never encountered a bear before and didn’t know to call us. They made the decision that they thought was right at the time.

“I have given them a copy of our nuisance bear policy. We will follow up and give some training to the police force on what they should do if they encounter a bear in the future.”

Bear encounters have become more common as Georgia’s bear population continues to increase. DNR issued a press release in April focusing on being “BearWise” in dealing with potential bear encounters, including what it calls the “Six At Home BearWise Basics.”

  • NEVER FEED OR APPROACH BEARS: Feeding bears (intentionally or unintentionally) trains them to approach homes and people for more food. Bears will defend themselves if a person gets too close, so don’t risk your safety and theirs!
  • SECURE FOOD, GARBAGE AND RECYCLING: Food and food odors attract bears so don’t reward them with easily available food or garbage.
  • REMOVE BIRD FEEDERS WHEN BEARS ARE ACTIVE: Birdseed and other grains have a high calorie content making them very attractive to bears. The best way to avoid conflicts with bears is to remove feeders.
  • NEVER LEAVE PET FOOD OUTDOORS: Feed outdoor pets portion sizes that will be completely eaten during each meal and then remove leftover food and food bowl. Securely store these foods so nothing is available to bears.
  • CLEAN AND STORE GRILLS: After you use an outdoor grill, clean it thoroughly and make sure that all grease and fat is removed. Store cleaned grills and smokers in a secure area that keeps bears out.
  • ALERT NEIGHBORS TO BEAR ACTIVITY: Share news with your friends and neighbors about recent bear activity and how to avoid bear conflicts. Bears have adapted to living near people; are you willing to adapt to living near bears?

The DNR press release said, “The black bear is a symbol of Georgia’s natural diversity as it is the only bear found in the state and is a conservation success story. Though now considered the most common bear in North America, the species was nearly eradicated from Georgia in the 1930s due to unregulated hunting, illegal harvest—including the killing of bears as vermin and large-scale habitat loss. Sound wildlife management practices have restored Georgia’s black bears to a thriving population estimated at 4,100 bears statewide.”

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