Wildlife

Black bear euthanized in Haines after it was wounded by improper police hazing, trooper says

This article was originally published at ChilkatValleyNews.com and is republished here with permission.

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HAINES — The local wildlife trooper and an Alaska Department of Fish and Game biologist will train Haines police on proper hazing methods after Chief Heath Scott shot a black bear with a cracker round, a less-than-lethal projectile meant to be fired near an animal but not at it.

“It didn’t need to be injured. It’s improper hazing that led to the injury of the bear,” Trooper Colin Nemec said. “If you have a cracker round and you shoot at it, it can explode inside the animal. You shouldn’t shoot those directly at animals, period.”

Bean bags, a physical deterrent, can be fired directly at animals. Cracker rounds are noise makers that explode and flash and are meant to scare the animal.

Nemec said he was forced to shoot and kill the bear after Scott injured it outside of the Haines Sheldon Museum.

Scott told the Chilkat Valley News that he shot the bear with bean bags and two cracker rounds.

“We did attempt several other methods of hazing prior to its wounding — throwing objects, yelling and then three less-than-lethal rounds prior to its wounding. I used two CTS super socks (bean bag rounds) and two cracker rounds,” Scott wrote in an email to the CVN. “One of the cracker rounds overpenetrated.”

In his police report, Scott wrote the bear had to be shot because it wasn’t responding to hazing methods. Based on interviews, it’s unclear if Scott shot the cracker round at the bear by accident or if he was unaware of its intended use. Neither Scott nor Nemec answered the question directly. Nemec said cracker rounds look like typical shotgun and bean-bag slugs.

In Nemec’s official incident report, he wrote that after one of the rounds hit the animal, “the bear let out a moan and the chief stated that he accidentally shot the bear with a slug.”

“The bear was injured and came out of the tree and was not moving its back legs,” Nemec wrote in the report. “Chief Scott attempted to dispatch the bear with his shotgun. He was unsuccessful and I dispatched the bear.”

Nemec said he and a Fish and Game biologist will provide training for proper hazing techniques sometime after the fall moose hunt.

Scott responded to the report of the black bear in the apple tree at the museum on Aug. 31. Haines School students were scheduled to arrive later that day for a field trip. The tree did not have an electric fence around it, and only after the bear was killed did Nemec learn that the animal had been frequenting the area for weeks.

“Apparently the bear was getting into that tree for two weeks and I was notified about that after we shot the bear,” Nemec said. “If I don’t know about something, I can’t do anything about it.”

Museum business manager Burl Sheldon said he had borrowed an electric fence from the local Fish and Game office the day before the bear was shot, but the fence was stolen the same day.

Alison Jacobson witnessed the start of the hazing and heard the shooting from her office at Alaska Fjordlines across from the museum.

“I just heard shots,” Jacobson said. “They all sounded the same to me. I decided not to go back over there. It was upsetting and I was bummed they were shooting this bear in broad daylight at 9:30 a.m. on Main Street.”

At least 30 bears were killed last year outside the hunting season, which resulted in borough code changes, new enforcement guidelines and education campaigns that urge electric fences around fruit trees.

“There are a lot of people in town trying to do their part,” Jacobson said. “It was a bummer that the people in charge of the museum didn’t have the foresight to put up a hot wire fence. That was not a very nice event to see.”

Two bears have been reported killed so far this year outside of the hunting season. In the summer and fall of 2020, bears caused thousands of dollars in property damage after breaking into sheds, garages, vehicles and homes.

Last year, troopers investigated whether Scott created a bear attractant after he shot and wounded a brown bear outside his home. Scott said the bear had banged on his garage door and gotten into garbage cans stored in his driveway. The investigation is still under review by the Department of Law.

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