Distressed bear could cost taxpayers thousands

GRAND FORKS--A wild bear in Grand Forks' University Park called for response from nearly 20 officers or game wardens for the nearly 15-hour public safety emergency Monday, July 16, costing taxpayers thousands of dollars.
A black bear peers down between the limbs of a cottonwood tree in Grand Forks' University Park on Monday afternoon, July 16. The bear was tranquilized and removed from the tree by Grand Forks police officers, but it later was euthanized due to its health. Nick Nelson / Forum News Service

GRAND FORKS-A wild bear in Grand Forks' University Park called for response from nearly 20 officers or game wardens for the nearly 15-hour public safety emergency Monday, July 16, costing taxpayers thousands of dollars.

Lt. Derik Zimmel of the Grand Forks Police Department said he hopes the encounter can be a learning experience for the department.

"Obviously having something take all day like that is not ideal," he said. "But once the bear was up there in the tree and there was a big crowd sitting around, there were not a lot of options at that point."

The first report of a bear near Industrial Park came in around 4:30 a.m. Monday. Officers unsuccessfully tried to scare the bear out of Grand Forks, but it instead ventured toward University Park and climbed into a tree around 9 a.m. The bear climbed down and walked toward a neighborhood before settling again in a tree inside the park.

Police closed the park and warned residents to stay away from the area, but spectators gathered near the park edges to watch. The crowd heightened public safety concerns, Zimmel said.

The bear eventually was sedated with help from Red River Zoo veterinarian Dr. Tom Colville. It was lifted with a crane by one leg from the tree and transported to a Department of Game and Fish lab in Bismarck by a private citizen.

The bear was euthanized because it would likely wander into a city again if relocated, Colville said. The high stress and sedatives also affected its chances of survival if released.

The large crowd took away options for police to de-escalate the situation and still prioritize human safety, Corville said. The spectators may have been what ultimately led to the bear's death, he said.

"I believe officers of the Grand Forks Police Department and the North Dakota Game and Fish Department acted very professionally and appropriately to protect public safety and the welfare of the bear," he said.

The bear will undergo an animal autopsy for research, Grand Forks District Game Warden Blake Riewer said.

Police records show 15 public safety officers helped control the situation from 4:30 a.m. until about 7:30 p.m. It's hard to determine exactly how much the approximately 65 hours of work cost because salaries vary, Zimmel said.

Riewer said four game wardens also arrived to help. He was on scene for about 15 hours and estimates additional wardens spent between three to nine hours there.

The North Dakota Office of Management and Budget shows that safety officers and game wardens are paid between $24.58 and $40.96 per hour.

The police department also reimbursed the Red River Zoo for the sedative drugs and darts that were used to sedate the bear, which cost $80. The zoo decided against reimbursement for travel and time, Colville said.

It is unknown if the private citizen who also attempted to tranquilize the bear and transported the animal to Bismarck will be reimbursed. Additional costs for the crane equipment or street barrier assistance also is unknown.

In total, the bear likely cost taxpayers between $2,126 and $3,735, according to a Herald analysis.

If another bear walks into town, Zimmel said he hopes officers will be able to control the situation before it turns into a stand-off.

In the meantime, a small teddy bear, a bottle of honey, flowers and candles sit at the base of the University Park tree the black bear climbed as a memorial to the animal.