A young black bear captured Wednesday morning after roaming leisurely through residential yards in the Heights area of Billings will be euthanized, according to Fish, Wildlife and Parks.
Officials at first considered relocating the bear well out of town, possibly to the Pryor Mountains. But later in the morning, the choice was made to put the bear down, said Bob Gibson, information and education manager for FWP in Billings.
"The bear found a lot of food in the neighborhood there," Gibson said.
The year-old bruin was first spotted near Beartooth Elementary School before being reported on the bike path, said Billings Police Lt. Mark Cady.
Officers with the Billings Police Department and Yellowstone County Animal Control followed the animal until it eventually clambered over a chain-link fence and settled into a backyard at the intersection of Bench Boulevard and Ahoy Street.
Ashley Wiser, who lives at the house, said she was waking her kids up and getting them ready for school at the time. She went to the back door to let her dogs out, and was startled to find police cruisers and a crowd of officers along her property line.
"I was terrified," she said later that morning. "We had no idea ... that was crazy, there were police everywhere," she said.
Neighbors stood across the street, holding up cameras and cell phones and hoping to catch a glimpse of the small black bear as officers staked out the yard and waited for FWP officials to arrive.
From inside the house, Wiser could see the bear lounging in the yard, munching on apples.
After state wildlife officials arrived, game warden Matt Ladd walked into the yard with a rifle and knocked the bear out with a single tranquilizer round.
After it was darted, the bear had begun to climb a tree in the yard before falling back against the fence. Although it didn't get very high, Gibson said injuries the bruin sustained would preclude releasing it back into the wild.
It was then loaded into a culvert trap and driven to the agency’s local office.
It's been at least a couple years since a bear has been reported in town, Ladd said, but he noted that recently the local FWP office has been getting called out to Lockwood on a nearly weekly basis.
“Right now there are three to four bears in the Lockwood area,” Ladd said. “They’re going to keep traveling around. He can get across the river pretty easily.”
An apple tree in the yard appears to have enticed the black bear, said Megan O'Reilly, a wildlife biologist with the state agency.
Apples and other fruit left on the ground can create an attractant for bears, increasing the possibility of conflicts with people. Even residents in town should try to keep their yards cleared of fruit falling to the ground this time of year, O'Reilly said.
Wiser said she feels terrible for inadvertently supplying the bear with food, noting that she had never heard of bears previously entering the area. After the bear was driven off, she said state wildlife officials pointed out bear scat on the property, indicating the bear had previously visited the house. But she wasn't familiar with the appearance of bear droppings, and figured it was some other animal.
"You just don't think about it, but they're here," she said.