Black bear sighting

A black bear seen Wednesday near campgrounds south of the city of Billings. The bear is believed to have killed two goats and has been digging through trash in the area around the facilities of the Yellowstone River Campgrounds and the Kampgrounds of America.

The black bear that killed two goats in a south Billings neighborhood has been trapped and euthanized, according to Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks. 

The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Wildlife Services caught the bear and killed it Thursday morning, according to a press release from Greg Lemon, information bureau chief with FWP. 

Wildlife Services "typically handles livestock predation situations," Lemon wrote in the release. 

On Wednesday morning the bear killed, dragged and partially ate two pet goats that had been kept in a pen in the Garden Avenue area. It's also believed to have been going through garbage in the area of the Kampgrounds of America and Yellowstone River Campgrounds facilities. 

Wednesday afternoon the owner of the goats encountered the bear and shot at it with a gun, said Capt. Bill Michaelis of the Yellowstone County Sheriff's Office. 

FWP set up a culvert trap that day in an attempt to catch the bear. The 2-year-old bear was a male and healthy, Lemon said. He was not sure how the bear was killed. The carcass was turned over to FWP but Lemon said he was not sure what his agency planned to do with the animal's body.

The chance of a black bear attacking someone is "remote," but it is taken into consideration when deciding how to deal with a black bear trapped for eating human-related food sources, said Ron Aasheim, an FWP administrator. The animals usually run away from humans, he said. 

The decision to euthanize a black bear relies on an evaluation of the behavior that led to the bear's trapping, said Shawn Stewart, an FWP wildlife biologist. For the better part of 40 years Stewart has worked with both grizzly and black bears. If the bear has eaten garbage, relocation is a possible option, he said.

"With a bear that depredates on livestock, there is no relocation option. They will be euthanized always," Stewart said. A bear that kills livestock most likely will do so again if relocated, he said. "So to prevent any future incidence with that particular animal, that's just the way it is."

Wildlife Services is always responsible for euthanizing black bears that have eaten livestock in Montana, according to Stewart.

"Bears are very smart," he said. "They learn very quickly. One of the things that they do learn very quickly and always remember is where those food sources are."

The fact that the goats were being kept as pets is irrelevant to the state classifying the animals as livestock, Stewart said. Even if they were classified as pets, Stewart said the bear would still most likely be euthanized.  

He said the bear must have recently emerged from hibernation and had not been out of its den more than a couple weeks. "Quite often they just follow a drainage downstream until they hit a food source. When they're doing that, very often, that food source they're going to hit is some kind of human-related food source." 

There are roughly 500 black bears in the Beartooth Mountains, Stewart said. In the Pryor Mountains, outside the Crow Reservation, there are around 100 black bears, he said.

In this situation, it appears garbage brought the bear closer to the goats, Stewart said. Bear attractants can include garbage, bird feeders and pet food.

In Red Lodge, Stewart said bears coming into town and eating trash with frequency was a problem for the better part of 30 years before more people began utilizing bear-resistant garbage cans.

"Given that whole riparian corridor, whether it's Blue Creek, Duck Creek, Pryor Creek or the Yellowstone River there, anytime there's garbage available, you're going to have the potential of developing a bear frequenting your area." 

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Night Reporter

General assignment reporter for The Billings Gazette.