Police shot and wounded a black bear after it ambled about in a crowded campground in Savage, and the injured animal was spotted three days later as the Memorial Day weekend wrapped up but has yet to be tracked down, authorities said Wednesday.
The bear, described by police as 18 months to 2 years old and weighing up to 200 pounds, was confronted by police Friday night behind a home just south of the Town and Country Campground, which sits along Boone Avenue south of 125th Street, Police Chief Rodney Seurer said.
“The campground was full to capacity,” Seurer said. “Everybody was outside grilling.”
Officers shot and wounded the bear — which had been spotted in Savage several times earlier that day — “and it just took off running,” Seurer said. It was last seen Monday morning about a mile to the east crossing Hwy. 13, police said.
Campground owner Dave Olmstead said the bear was seen twice on Friday in the campground.
“Most of our campers were kind of excited to have a bear on the property,” said Olmstead, adding that this is a first for the 46-year-old family-owned business.
Police were called after each sighting, and officers shot and wounded the bear behind a home about 50 to 75 yards from the campground, Olmstead said.
Homeowner Dave Cole said the bear was sitting and eating sunflower seeds from the family’s feeder when he spotted it in his back yard in the 9200 block of Creek Way about 9 p.m. Friday. A few minutes later, Cole said, his doorbell rang, and a police officer asked if he’d seen a bear. The officer called in more officers.
“I asked them, ‘You’re not going to kill it?’ and they said, ‘Yeah, we gotta kill it.’ The bear hadn’t done any damage or threatened anybody. And the next thing I know, one of the policemen fired about three shots at the bear. He didn’t have a good shot, because there was a fence there and an 8-foot-tall arbor and it’s down low. Apparently, he wounded the bear, and the bear ran off.”
Seurer said his department has been in contact with the state Department of Natural Resources and the message was clear: “When there is food involved and [the bear is] near people, you need to put it down.”
Greg Salo, an enforcement captain with the DNR, said bears “are not like squirrels and rabbits that can coexist with humans in the metro.”
Shooting a wayward bear with a tranquilizer gun and moving it into its natural habitat is a common suggestion from the public but not practical, Salo added.
“In the big picture, there are a lot of bears,” he said. “Once it’s habituated, eating out of garbage cans and bird feeders, it’s a ‘problem bear’ and it will always do that. Relocating them will not work.”
Salo said there are typically one or two bear sightings in the metro area by this time every spring, but there have been three or four so far this season.
The DNR says black bears usually try to avoid people, but sometimes they clash with humans when eating crops or scrounging in garbage cans and bird feeders.
Seurer said his officers returned Wednesday to the areas where the bear had been seen earlier with hopes of spotting the wounded animal.
“We hope it goes back under Hwy. 13 and back to the [Minnesota] River,” he said. “We think that’s where it came from.”
There is some chance, the chief added, that the bear will survive being shot.
“One of our officers talked to the DNR and was told that bears have that thick, fat skin that protects the bear,” Seurer said. “He can be injured and survive. Who knows?”
Staff writer Joy Powell contributed to this report.