South Florida Bear Shooting Leads to Feud Between Police and Wildlife Officials

by Amy Myers

Typically, law enforcement and wildlife officials work closely to ensure the safety of both humans and animals whenever our paths cross. However, a fatal bear shooting in Florida has drawn a dividing line between the two authorities over the proper way to handle the situation.

The incident occurred over the weekend after Palm Beach County deputies had been monitoring a juvenile black bear. The animal had been roaming through a local neighborhood and was a safety concern. After failing to secure a trapper or handler, the deputies on-site shot the animal four times, effectively killing it.

Following the animal’s death, wildlife officials claimed that this was not proper conduct as the police department didn’t act on an alternative containment strategy. Instead, they believe the deputies opted instead for the more fatal course of action. But in the eyes of the deputies, they were only upholding their mission to protect the public.

The situation has certainly drawn a wedge between the two vital Florida departments. Younger bears that are no longer dependent on a sow tend to test the boundaries and explore residential areas. While this can encourage dangerous behaviors, many believe that shooting the bear was not necessary for this incident. As more details surface about the bear killing, the conversation surrounding wildlife engagement has become even more intense.

‘We Are Not the Bear Police,’ Says South Florida Police

At roughly 8 a.m., deputies arrived at Saratoga Lakes where they immediately shut down the surrounding streets. The bear had climbed high up a tree in a neighbor’s backyard. Soon after, it slid back down before finding a new pine trunk to conquer. At this point, deputies had contacted a trapper and were waiting for the individual to arrive.

Meanwhile, agents from the Florida Wildlife Commission (FWC) had originally told the officers to take fire if the bear descended the tree before the trapper arrived. Later, though, the FWC changed their minds and instead advised to let the bear exit the area on its own, according to PBSO officials. Despite this, the deputies shot the animal four times after it descended the tree.

This ultimately led to an uproar from wildlife officials as well as the public, claiming that the bear exhibited no aggressive or threatening behavior that required such deadly force.

In response to the criticism, the South Florida department wrote in its official report, “The bear had NO place to roam safely! Fearing the bear would roam into the residential communities and/or impede traffic flow on the adjacent roadways PBSO was faced with making the decision to discharge their shotguns striking and killing the bear.”

“We are not the bear police,” the Palm Beach Sheriff’s Office (PBSO) continued. “We don’t know how to handle a bear. It is our responsibility to keep the public safe.”

The FWC plans to further investigate the incident and release its own report.