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West side bear didn’t need to die

It’s not the end any of us wanted.

We, along with many of our neighbors, were crestfallen Thursday afternoon when we learned officials with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources had decided to euthanize a bear that has become a neighborhood fixture along Traverse City’s west side.

It is an awful end. A potentially preventable end.

The lumbering birdfeeder bandit rose into our collective attention in 2020 when he began partaking in a smorgasbord of low-hanging food in residential areas in Traverse City and Garfield Township. He frequented trash bins and backyard birdfeeders for months last year, successfully evading efforts by DNR biologists to trap and relocate him.

And for months, officials requested everyone remove the bruin’s incentive to plod into close proximity with humans by taking down birdfeeders and keeping trash bins inaccessible. Cutting off that low-hanging food supply often encourages bears to return to natural foraging habits in areas that reduce their contact with humans.

Eventually, clever DNR staffers lured the 400-pound Yogi into a trap in April by using the bird seed — a meal to which the bear had become woefully accustomed. They then relocated him to a spot about 90 miles from Traverse City.

Surely, the width of the mitten would keep the bear safely away from the temptation of suburban life in Traverse City.

Unfortunately, the draw of the city proved too much for the bear, and he quickly returned to the area — tracking data shows he was back in Grand Traverse County by mid-May.

He found what he was looking for — lots of bird feeders and trash bins to raid.

By Thursday, when the DNR trapped the hulking bear for a second time, he had grown both in girth and boldness. He now was about 500 pounds, according to information released by the DNR. He also had all but lost natural aversion to human contact and commotion — behavior captured in dozens of photos and videos posted to social media by west side residents.

DNR officials said the bear’s persistence and boldness simply became too significant a risk to public safety, they were forced to euthanize him.

This is a frustrating end. An unnecessary end.

Humans contributed to this mature bear’s death by simply not following bear-aware protocols to eliminate enticements that would keep him in the neighborhood. If we all followed best practices DNR officials spent the past year pleading with us to abide by, this bear may have simply gone back to the thick woods of the Boardman or Platte river valleys.

There is a chance this magnificent bear would’ve met his end in an unfortunate interaction with humans anyway — on a highway or by taking up residence in a neighborhood in confrontation with humans.

But we humans sure didn’t do our part in giving him a fighting chance.

— Traverse City Record-Eagle

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