A criminal investigation is underway after a Boy Scout camp director shot and killed a bear in a Scout camp Wednesday evening.
The director and a Scout leader responded to a report of a bear in a campsite and attempted to scare the bear away, said Rick Barnes, Scout executive for the Great Salt Lake Council. When that failed, the director decided "to take the bear down" by shooting it three times, Barnes said.
The bear was eating a bag of candy bars left on a picnic table, Barnes said, adding that no Scouts were in the immediate vicinity of the animal.
The incident occurred at 8:30 p.m. at the Hinckley Scout Ranch on the east fork of the Bear River on the north slope of the Uinta Mountains.
The Scouts knew a bear had been in the 600-acre camp earlier in the week after one had slashed a tent in another part of the ranch over the previous weekend, Barnes said. They had closed off that small section but allowed 500 Scouts to begin their weeklong camp on Monday in other parts of the ranch.
Council leaders asked Division of Wildlife Resources to place bear warning signs around the camp, Barnes said. DWR employees gave presentations to the Scouts about bear-safety precautions, said Jodie Anderson, member of the conservation outreach section of the division. That included admonishments about thoroughly cleaning up all food and disposing of any leftovers in bear-proof containers.
Barnes said his leaders and Scouts took those warnings and precautions seriously, but "unfortunately, we had one group not follow the rules." That troop was told they had to leave camp early, and they returned home Thursday.
The DWR's law enforcement officers are wrapping up their investigation and plan to turn it over to the county attorney once it is completed to screen for charges, Anderson said.
"Oh, brother!" Barnes said of the investigation. "I think that's uncalled for."
He said the camp director who shot the bear has worked full time for the Great Salt Lake Council for two years but has worked in scouting for 10 years. He came from Colorado, where he also dealt with bears.
"He's not a newcomer to the situation," Barnes said.
Barnes said there hasn't been a bear at Hinckley Scout Ranch for six years, but Scouts and bears have had run-ins before.
In June 2006, a bear bit through the side of a tent and into a Boy Scout's arm at Hobble Creek Canyon. The DWR later shot and killed that bear. The DWR also shot and killed two bears in June 2004 after the pair entered the Bristlecone Boy Scout Camp northwest of Helper and ravaged a tented kitchen area demolishing garbage cans and polishing off three gallons of ice cream.
And 2009 proved to be a particularly fatal year for Utah bears as people shot seven black bears throughout the state after attempts to scare them from campgrounds, wilderness areas and private property failed.
Once bears have eaten human food, it becomes nearly impossible to keep them out of inhabited areas.
That's why cleaning campsites becomes critical, Anderson said.
"Keep your campsites clean; it is something to take very seriously," Anderson said. "These are wild animals, and you have to do everything you can to protect yourself. The most important thing is to keep your campsite clean."
Bear safety tips
Most forested areas in Utah provide habitat suitable for black bears and probably contain a resident population of bears. To prevent conflicts with black bears:
• Never feed a bear.
• Keep campsites, cabin sites and rural homes free of food and litter. Clean barbecue grills and store them inside a secure facility. If garbage is stored on the premises, keep it in a covered, bear-proof container and remove it often.
• Do not leave food in coolers, on picnic tables or any place bears can access it easily.
• When camping, store food where bears cannot reach it. Never keep food in your tent. Store food in the trunk of your car or in a bear-proof container.
• If hiking in dense vegetation, make noise to alert bears of your presence. Voices, whistles and other noises are usually sufficient.
• Never approach or come between a mother bear and her young.
• Do not make direct eye contact. Bears perceive eye contact as aggressive behavior.
• Stay calm. Immediately pick up small children.
• Make noise, yell, clap your hands, bang pots or throw rocks to scare it away.
• Make yourself appear as large as possible. Raise your arms, jacket, pack or other object over your head.
• Never approach a bear. If it approaches you, retreat slowly or climb a tree.
• Do not turn and run, as this may trigger an attack. Slowly back away.
• If you are attacked and cannot get away, fight back, kick, scream and yell. Be aggressive.
Source: Utah Division of Wildlife Resources