The Salem bear

A young black bear looks down from a pine tree near residences in Salem.

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In the end, a trap baited with doughnuts, pecans, molasses and bacon was too much for a bear to resist.

The young black bear that visited Salem last week – after spending Monday night and most of Tuesday in large pine trees near residences on East Roosevelt – finally crawled into the trap about 1:15 a.m. Wednesday and was captured by Missouri Department of Conservation agents.

The bear, described as two years old and between 180 and 200 pounds, was taken to the MDC shop in Salem, sedated and tagged. He spent the night there before being taken to U.S. Forest Service land east of town and released into the wild later in the morning.

Conservation agent Dave Ingram and Josh Wisdom, an MDC wildlife damage biologist from Springfield experienced in trapping bears, spent many hours on the scene trying to entice the bear out of the trees and into the trap while the public clamored for a closer look at it.

“He was what we would consider to be a teenage bear,” Ingram said. “They tend to roam. They’re looking for their own territory to establish, after probably getting run out of their home areas by more dominant, mature older males. They tend to get into places they really shouldn’t be, just looking for food and looking for places to establish residence.”

Wisdom agreed. “Most of the bears that end up making the newspaper, that end up in trees, that end up in places the people generally don’t think about as bear places, are almost always exactly what you saw: two-year-old male bears,” he said. “And that’s because they get dispersed from their mother when they get that age, basically he’s like a teenage bear, on his own for the first time, so they’re really naïve. They get into trouble and are more of a nuisance than anything. They don’t know any better.”

To trap the bear, he used bait not normally employed when catching bears in the wild for research. “But when they’re in town and we’re just trying to get him in the box, they like sweet stuff,” he said. “Doughnuts work and they’re also pretty fragrant. Pastries smell, and the bacon I cooked, it carries the smell really well.”

The bear came down from his tree several times Tuesday afternoon and acted interested in the bait, but would get spooked by noise.

“Basically, every time he would get down and start to do something, a truck would drive by or a neighbor would step out on his porch or something would bother him and he’d go back up a tree,” Wisdom said. At one time, a small plane circled the area four or five times at low altitude. There were also lawnmowers running and dogs barking.

Finally, sometime after midnight the bear came down and eventually went in the trap, which is set to slam shut when the bear pulls on a bait item or a rope is pulled from the outside to trigger the door.

“When he was in all the way I pulled the rope to catch him,” Wisdom said. “By then the town is really dead so you don’t have all the extra sounds of people moving around, trying to take his picture.”

Ingram said he appreciated the Salem Police and Dent County Fire Protection District cordoning the area off until the bear was caught. “What helped us the most was just backing everybody off and giving the bear space, a stress-free environment where it could just ease its way down the tree and check out the food we had placed in and around the trap,” he said.

Efforts were made to confine the bear to a yard about 120-by-120 feet using solar-powered, low voltage electric fencing around the area of the trap, Ingram noted.

“Of all the places it could have chosen, it probably chose the yard with the largest pine trees in town, a large amount of really big shortleaf pine trees,” he said.

The bear climbed as high as 30 to 40 feet in the trees at times, making it highly visible to the many passersby but too far up to safely tranquilize, Ingram said. “Once it got dark it rained,” he said. “That kind of helped us a little bit. It got people away from there.” But it kept getting spooked. “He probably went up and down that tree a half dozen times at least.”

The watch actually began Monday night about 10 p.m. as Michael Loveday and his family were roasting hotdogs and sitting by a campfire in their yard. They spotted the bear across the fence before it became frightened and ran up a tree.

The bear sighting was reported and Ingram responded, but after a couple of hours, decided to leave it alone and let it come down on its own. By the next morning, it was still in the tree and Wisdom was called in to trap it.

“The bear was actually fairly gentle,” Ingram said. “Even after we got it in the trap it was pretty docile. But they still have incredible strength, and can quickly injure a person if presented with a threat or get cornered where they can’t escape.”

Wisdom said if people encounter a bear in town, “It doesn’t hurt to make some noise and try to scare the bear away. But generally, in Missouri, all the interactions people are going to have with bears will be based on attractants.”

Those include bird feeders and trash or pet food left outdoors. “If they don’t have those attractants available for bears to get into, they won’t have problems,” he said.

“The bear is only interested in eating, and he’s not really interested in eating people,” Wisdom said. “He’s interested in just eating food. If there are easily accessible calories, like sugar water from a hummingbird feeder or cat food outside or whatever. That’s what he’s interested in.

“Generally, if they can get into it, they’re gonna come back. If there’s nothing for them to get into, they’re going to go away. They need thousands of calories a day and their whole life revolves around food.”

He added, “I don’t think people should be that concerned. Bear attacks are extremely rare. We’ve never had a bear attack in Missouri that I’m aware of. I know that’s what everybody is concerned about.”

If you’re out in the wild hiking or hunting, it’s unlikely you’ll even see a bear, he said.

“They’re probably way gone before you even get there. Their eyesight’s not that great, but their nose is very good, better than a dog’s. Generally they smell people before they arrive and they (the bears) are gone.”

SALEM NEWS

This article originally ran on houstonherald.com.

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