Kentucky lawmakers consider getting tough on bad bears
Posted: Friday, January 1, 2010 3:01 pm
By ROGER ALFORD
Associated Press Writers
FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — Dangerous bears could be shot if they get within 30 yards of a home under a proposal that will be presented to Kentucky lawmakers this month.
State Rep. Rick Nelson, D-Middlesboro, said he will be pushing the legislation to protect Kentucky residents from criminal prosecution if they shoot black bears that they believe pose a danger.
Nelson said he’s had calls from constituents who have been unable to walk from their homes to their cars because of bears were ransacking garbage cans or eating from bird feeders and pet food bowls.
“It makes you a prisoner in your own home,” he said. “There seems to be conflicting statutes about what a person can do. Under existing law, if there is a bear on your property, you can actually shoot it, but fish and wildlife folks make the determination if they feel you were justified.”
Nelson is proposing a change that justifies shooting bears if a person “reasonably believes” the action is necessary to protect against death or serious injury.
More than a century ago, bears thrived in Kentucky’s mountain region, but over-hunting and habitat loss led to their disappearance. Over the past 20 years, they have been venturing back into Kentucky from the forests of neighboring states like Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia.
The U.S. bear population more than doubled between 1989 and 2006, rising from 165,000 to over 350,000, according to The International Association of Bear Research and Management, a bear conservation nonprofit that takes a periodic census of the animals. The Eastern states alone now have about 163,000 bears.
Estimates of Kentucky’s bear population range from 100 to 350.
Kentucky Wildlife Commissioner Jon Gassett acknowledged in a letter to Nelson that people who are “genuinely threatened with bodily injury from a black bear or any other wildlife species can use deadly force” to protect themselves.
“However, the mere presence of a bear on one’s property does not warrant lethal action,” he said.
Kentucky League of Sportsmen President Rick Allen said he hasn’t reviewed Nelson’s proposal.
“I’m not speaking for or against the legislation,” he said. “But I have full belief that you have the right to protect yourself any time, any place on your own property, be it from man or beast.”
Kentucky opened a hunting season for bears this year, a move pushed by the state League of Sportsmen to reinforce the animals’ fear of humans. But no bears were killed in the hunt, which was held Dec. 19-20.
The Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources blamed the lack of kills on a winter storm that left up to 12 inches of snow in parts of the mountain region. Kentucky state bear biologist Steven Dobey said hunters simply couldn’t get to areas where they likely would have been able to shoot bears.
Published in The Messenger 1.1.10