ASHLAND, OR (KPTV) - Animal rights activists are upset after a young bear was euthanized near Ashland and a local volunteer fire chief who tried to help it was issued a citation.
The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife argues it was the right decision to kill the bear, but animal advocates say the agency ignored alternatives.
Last Wednesday, Gene Davies, the volunteer fire chief for Green Springs Fire District, got a call about a young bear in the middle of Highway 66 near Ashland.
“It was stopping traffic and causing quite a fuss,” said Davies.
He radioed for help from Oregon State Police and ODFW, then tried to lead the bear back into the woods, but it wouldn’t leave the chief’s side.
“I basically just sat down on a rock, waited for help to arrive. Fortunately, I had my bear company with me, so we waited for about two hours for help to arrive and that never happened,” said Davies.
With neither agency coming to help, Davies said he decided to coax the bear into a dog crate and bring it back to his property until he could find the bear a safe place to go.
Meanwhile, an accredited sanctuary called Lions Tigers & Bears based near San Diego was making arrangements to transport and rehome the bear.
“Sanctuary’s kind of the last chance,” said Bobbi Brink, the founder and director of Lions Tigers & Bears. “Of course we would always want to try to rehab a wild bear first and try to rerelease or come to a sanctuary for life if that doesn’t work. And, you know, a lot of times, most times, it’s really hard to get a sanctuary. It’s really, very, very hard to place bears, so this would’ve been a lucky little bear.”
Davies finally received a call from ODFW a couple hours after he initially called for help.
“The entire time, I was working on trying to find a way to comply with their original suggestion which was for me to personally take the bear far, far away and release it back into the wild. I had no idea how to make a decision on exactly where to do that and I was very hesitant. I didn’t want to choose the wrong location that would endanger the bear or possibly cause additional human contact,” he said.
Davies research about where to relocate the bear went on well into the evening, so he decided to wait until Thursday to pick it back up. That’s when ODFW and OSP officers showed up at Davies’ home and issued him a citation for ‘holding wildlife without a permit.’
“These agencies have criminalized human kindness. They have such a pro-killing bias within their internal culture that they really show their open contempt for kindhearted people by punishing them when they try to do the right thing for wildlife in need,” said Scott Beckstead, the director of campaigns for Animal Wellness Action and The Center for a Humane Economy.
An ODFW spokesperson said the fire chief was not originally cited but was after he did not release the bear back into the wild and did not inform ODFW he wasn’t going to turn it over to them Wednesday.
“I was trying to still hold out for hope that a rehabilitation agency could take the bear. It really seemed like they were completely unreceptive to anything I had to say and were single-mindedly focused on seizing the bear and citing me,” said Davies. “I feel betrayed.”
The agency spokesperson for ODFW said the yearling bear (which means more than a year old) was too habituated (showing signs like a loss of fear of people) to release back into the wild and was considered a poor candidate for placement into a permanent facility because, “We do not believe it is humane to put a free ranging bear into captivity…To put a yearling bear that’s been free ranging over 10 miles into a captive facility for the rest of its life is not something we support.”
So, they euthanized the bear by sedating then shooting it, which is a humane method of killing according to ODFW.
Davies said his goal was always to protect public safety.
“That’s why I responded to the call and that’s why I removed the bear from a state highway. I did not want this to cause a motor vehicle crash, potentially injuring a driver and passengers and, secondarily, I did not want the bear to be hit by a car and injured or killed. That was my motivation. Period,” the fire chief told FOX 12.
Secondly, he was committed to giving the bear the best chance for survival.
“The poor thing kept making sustained eye contact…you know, I’m anthropomorphizing this, but it looked at me with really sad eyes and it just looked like it wanted help. And I feel that I failed him,” said Davies.
Beckstead told FOX 12 he’s seen time and time again that animals are killed even when other options exist, and something needs to change.
“There needs to be a fundamental, top to bottom reassessment of how these agencies approach cases of wildlife in need and the kind people that are trying to help,” said Beckstead.
Davies told FOX 12 he wouldn’t have done anything differently in terms of the steps he took to help the bear.
He also said he’s disappointed to recently learn from an OSP trooper who called him that the agency responded to the highway call while he was deep in the woods with the bear. Davies said they drove away after seeing his empty emergency vehicle without checking in on him, calling, or helping in any way.