A 32-year-old man has been arrested and charged with killing a black bear in Alabama.
Though black bears are classified as game animals in Alabama, there is no established hunting season for the bears in the state. The bears are protected by state law due to low population numbers and anyone found guilty of shooting at or killing a black bear risks “serious” consequences, according to the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (ADCNR).
Shooting at a black bear in the state is a Class A misdemeanor, which carries a potential minimum fine of $2,000. Attempting to take a black bear can result in penalties including the loss of hunting and fishing license privileges for three years and possible jail time.
Michael Watkins, of Wetumpka, was charged with killing a black bear in Elmore County, located in the east-central portion of the state, the ADCNR said in a statement on Thursday. It is unclear when the bear was killed or the circumstances of its death.
“Hopefully this arrest will send a message and deter future wildlife regulation violations related to Alabama’s black bear population,” Matt Weathers, Chief of Enforcement with the Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries (WFF) Division of the ADCNR, said in a statement.
“If you see a black bear, just leave it alone. We want them in Alabama,” he added.
Newsweek reached out to the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources for comment.
Black bears are the most abundant and widely distributed of the three bear species that reside in North America. They can be found as far south as Florida and as far north as Alaska.
Alabama used to have an abundance of black bears, but the animals have disappeared from most of the state. The ADCNR considers them to be of the highest conservation concern.
The black bear population in Alabama is considered to be one of the smallest and most fragmented in the country, according to Auburn University. Research conducted in recent years has indicated that there may be fewer than 200 black bears remaining there.
Historically, a small black bear population has remained in the southwest of Alabama, primarily in Mobile and Washington counties. But in recent years, bears migrating from northwest Georgia have established a small, viable population in the northeast of the state.
The ADCNR is currently working with other state and federal agencies to collect more data on Alabama’s black bear population and the movements of the animals.
Black bears are secretive and shy animals that tend to avoid interactions with humans. But if you happen to encounter a black bear, the WFF offers a number of recommendations:
- Do not be frightened
- Do not approach the animal
- Do not run from the bear; back away slowly
- Stand tall and upright and make loud noises
- Avoid direct eye contact with the bear
- Make sure the bear has an unobstructed direction to escape
- Never purposely feed a bear
Members of the public are also encouraged to report any black bear sightings in the state here or to WFF district wildlife offices.