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Pioneer Editorial: Two bears, two outcomes

It was a tale of two cities this past weekend.

Or, rather, two bears.

On Friday, a bear that had wandered into Bemidji city limits during the morning hours was later tranquilized and relocated to a nearby park later in the day.

On Saturday morning, a bear was shot and killed by police in St. Paul.

Both bears were roughly the same size, about 150 to 200 pounds, although the Bemidji bear was larger based on media reports. Why was one tranquilized and removed and the other shot and killed? While some may think it is a black-and-white question and want to blame the St. Paul police for overreaction, there were several factors that led to the divergent outcomes.

The bear that wandered into Bemidji was first reported at about 6 a.m. Friday, near BSU. Police later found the bear closer to the downtown area, behind the Carnegie Library area near the waterfront. There it encountered people setting up for the Kraus-Anderson Walleye Classic as well as some others and the bear didn't like that one bit. He turned and returned up the path, settling in a wooded area off the trail that runs behind Bangsberg Fine Arts. There he stayed and police, BSU officers and those from the Department of Natural Resources were able to block off access to humans and contain the situation.

That didn't happen in St. Paul, Police Chief Manila Shaver told the St. Paul Pioneer Press. Their bear was mobile in several residential neighborhoods, and it was also injured, which was aggravating the bear, officials said. Although they did attempt to try to corner the bear for a tranquilizer shot, they worried the bear may flee to even higher populated areas. And "tranquing" an animal is not as easy as it sounds. As Shelley Gorham, DNR Bemidji Area Wildlife supervisor, told reporter Bethany Wesley, there are risks in tranquilizing an animal in an urban setting.

"The darted animal can charge and run, run into a crowd of people. They don't immediately fall down," Gorham said.

Other factors include simple population and the possibility the St. Paul bear was a "nuisance" bear, or a bear that has become so familiar with being in an urban setting that the risks of interaction with humans increases. A similar bear had been spotted recently in the southern Twin Cities suburbs of Savage and Eagan, the St. Paul paper reported. The Bemidji bear ran away and looked for a place to hide, ultimately falling asleep down by the lakefront. And while local officials initially had hoped the Bemidji bear would stay where it was until nightfall and make its own way out of town, they also had a good chance of subduing the animal without harming it and they took it. That was the best outcome, for the animal and the public, and local officials should be commended for it. And that's also to say that St. Paul officials should not be condemned for their outcome.

For many of us, we choose to live in Bemidji because of the great outdoors, and that includes the wildlife. This is not the first time a bear has been spotted within the city limits of Bemidji. And sometimes that leads to situations like this past weekend. Let's hope for more endings like that of Friday rather than Saturday's outcome.