Young bear

A young bear climbs a tree in a northeastern West Plains neighborhood.

An unusual interloper looking for a meal and a place to crash caused a stir Sunday night in northeast West Plains.

Clara Koelling, who lives on Allen Street across from the West Plains Elementary School, said she had been mowing and working in the yard all day Sunday and had put food scraps out for a stray kitten.

Koelling went back inside, looked out the window and saw a bear come down the tree for a snack.

“I told my granddaughter, ‘You’re not going to believe this. There’s a bear coming down the tree,’” she recalled.

Koelling figures it had been in the tree all day because she had been outside most of the day.  

She called the police and her granddaughter, Emalee Brashears, 15, snapped some cell phone pictures of the bear, which ate the food then left. She said passersby were stopping and honking their horns and yelling “Bear!” and some of the dogs in the neighborhood were barking.

The animal never acted mean or aggressive, she said.  

Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) Southwest Region Media Specialist Francis Skalicky, of the Springfield MDC office, said the bear was just doing what young adult bears do.

The black bear was a yearling weighing a little over 100 pounds, he said, and had probably just been forced out of his family group. This is the season when the previous year’s cubs are booted out of the den so mother bears can turn their attention to caring for younger cubs.   

The yearlings are then left to fend for themselves and find their own food and territory — imagine a hungry teenager looking for a meal and a place to sleep.

Skalicky said there were reports it was chased through a residential neighborhood and shot at with a handgun before finding refuge in a tree in the area of north Jackson Street near the West Plains Apartments.

The bear was eventually tranquilized by MDC Wildlife Damage Control Biologist Scott McWilliams and relocated with the assistance of MDC Agent Matt Franks.

It was relocated outside of town and released, Skalicky said. Agents stayed around long enough to make sure the bear woke up and checked it for injuries. “It wandered off and that was that,” he said.

The only injury the bear had was a nick in its ear from a near miss by the shooter, he added.

“It’s good thing someone was a bad shot,” he said.

Skalicky said he got no word the bear was acting in a threatening manner and shooting at it wasn’t necessary. “They aren’t out to hurt anyone,” said Skalicky. “If you see a bear, you don’t have to shoot at it, just try to scare it away. If it continues to be a nuisance, call the conservation department.”

Agents usually try techniques like noisemakers and a special type of shotgun shell that makes a loud noise but doesn’t harm the animal. If all else fails, the bear is tranquilized and relocated away from people.   

The biggest problem for homeowners may be the damage bears can cause in their attempts to find food, such as wrecking bird feeders or eating food left out for pets. Mooching food and digging through trash doesn’t do the bear any good in the long term either, Skalicky reminded.

Getting used to finding food near humans keeps the bear from learning how to forage in the wild, where it belongs.

“Wild animals aren’t meant to be around your house.”

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