Seven black bears, including two cubs, were euthanized in Montana this week after becoming dependent on food given to them by a local resident, NBC News reports.
According to the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks department, an individual in the town of Heron, which is near the Idaho border, had allegedly been feeding the bears for years. The practice created a public safety hazard in a residential area, KPAX reported.
"The last thing we wanted to do is remove these bears, but we had no choice because of the danger they pose to local residents," Lee Anderson, a warden with the agency, said in a statement Wednesday after five of the bears were captured and killed. Two additional bears were destroyed later that day.
The largest bears, a male and a female, weighed in at 485 and 300 lbs., respectively. In its statement, the agency said that the animals' abnormally heavy weights reflected their artificial feeding habits.
Anderson said that it was unknown how many bears in the area had become food conditioned as a result of the resident's feeding, and warned that others may continue to associate humans with food. Montana law prohibits the feeding of bears or other wildlife.
In an interview with the Sanders County Ledger, Heron resident Barbara Sweeney admitted to feeding the bears, insisting that she did not know that the practice was illegal, and that she thought she had been helping the animals.
“People have known I’ve been doing this for years,” Sweeney told the newspaper. “If they would have said something, I would have stopped. I can’t get over [that] they killed these animals.”
"This is a very unfortunate example of how feeding bears directly leads to their death," Fish, Wildlife and Parks spokesman Jim Satterfield added. "This is why we tell the public that feeding a bear is the same as signing its death warrant."
In September, a pack of endangered wolves had to be destroyed in Washington state after they became used to feeding on cattle.
Washington wildlife authorities said that a local rancher, who refused to cooperate in non-lethal control programs, was directly responsible for the problem.