Kevin L. Hoover
Mad River Union
SUNNY BRAE – A bear was shot and killed outside a Sunny Brae house Tuesday night. The black bear, a young male, was seen in the street at about 9 p.m. by the home's resident, Matthew Hartman, outside a low wire fence bordering the front lawn.
Hartman said he fired a single shotgun round at the bear from his front yard, striking it in the upper chest. The shot didn't immediately kill the animal. Mortally wounded, it wandered about 100 paces up Beverly Drive to a clearing at the end of the dead-end street, where it collapsed and died.
Hartman said that the bear was "down here at my fence, trying to get my dogs."
"The bear's been a nuisance for the last couple of years that I've been here," Hartman said. "Usually my dog manages to scare it off."
Hartman rents the house on Beverly Dr., where he lives with his four children and two dogs, Abby and Bear. Another tenant lives with two children in the house's converted garage residence.
The next morning, Hartman reported the incident to the California Dept. of Fish & Wildlife (CDFW) as well as the City of Arcata. Wednesday afternoon, Warden Matthew Renner, another CDFW agent and Hartman used ropes to lift the the animal's carcass into an agency truck and haul it off. A small patch of fresh blood in the dirt marked the spot of the bear's final demise.
Renner said the smallish black bear, perhaps 4 1/2 feet long, was a "boar," or young male.
CDFW Lt. Brent Chase, a former Arcata Police officer, said the agency was investigating the incident. He said that the initial report indicated a "depredation issue."
"You can shoot a bear that's trying to attack your property," he said, noting that dogs are considered property.
It was not initially clear where the animal's body was taken. Chase said that the agency doesn't conduct autopsies on dead bears as it does with mountain lions, per CDFW policy.
Neighbors, some of them angry at the killing and the use of a firearm on their street, disputed Hartman's claim that the bear had been attacking. They said that bears, along with deer, raccoons and even mountain lions are not uncommon in the heavily wooded Sunny Brae canyon. Like raccoons, the occasional bear usually turns up at night to prowl through garbage bins and devour any pet food left out.
"It's just kind of heartbreaking," said resident Megan Greene. "Anyone who has moved to this neighborhood for the past 10 years knows that there's a bear presence. It's not a problem if you take care of your trash."
According to Greene and several others, Hartman's house is a garbage-infested eyesore. The neighbors say they've filed four nuisance complaints with the City of Arcata, as well as two aggressive dog complaints over the larger of Hartman's two dogs, the one ironically named Bear.
The complaints couldn't immediately be verified, but a Public Records Act request for the information has been filed with the city, which has 10 days to provide any pertinent records.
Wednesday, material appearing to be household garbage was strewn about the area of the house, which is the last one on the dead-end street. Discarded food wrappers, plastic bottles, clothing, toys and other debris littered the front yard and gutter out front of the house, while more items could be seen among the foliage across the street. Just up a forest trail from where the bear died, a plastic garbage bag has been ripped apart, apparently by some kind of animal, its contents littering the area.
The material's origin is not known, but neighbors allege that some of the loose garbage came from the house Hartman's family lives in.
"You don't leave trash in your front yard and take it out on the bear," Greene said.
Another neighbor who asked not to be identified claimed to have been dealing with the trashy house for years. "I pick up their garbage all the time," the neighbor said. "That bear was no threat to anybody."
Chase said the preferred method for dealing with a nuisance animal is to call CDFW before taking action. An agency representative would be sent to the location, and if unsecured garbage was found, the resident would be advised to clean it up to minimize the attraction to any wild animals. "We don't just give a guy a permit to kill a bear," Chase said. "They have to take measures."
The Arcata Municipal Code (AMC) Title IV, Chapter 2, Article 2, Sections 4117 through 4121 defines allowed firearm use in Arcata. The AMC prohibits the discharge of weapons within city limits, with exceptions for police officers, firing ranges, hunting waterfowl in certain areas and "by any person while lawfully engaged in protecting life or property."
Violations are deemed a misdemeanor. APD Sgt. Todd Dokweiler said any decision on prosecution for the shotgun use "would come down to intent."
Dokweiler said Arcata Police would be involved "only on the periphery," with CDFW taking the lead on the investigation. He said APD would assist if CDFW asked for assistance on matters outside the primary scope of their inquiry.
Dokweiler said Hartman called both DFW and, at about 10:30 a.m. Wednesday, the City's Environmental Services (ES) dept. ES notified APD, which referred the matter to DFW, which by then had been called by Hartman.
CDFW's website says that California is home to an estimated 25,000 to 30,000 black bears. It wasn't immediately clear whether the boar was a northwestern black bear (Ursus americana altifrontalis) or the California black bear (U. a. californiensis).
Consequential encounters with bears and other wildlife are not uncommon along Arcata's forest/urban interface. Experts recommend securing food and garbage, as bears possess an acute sense of smell, seek out easy sources of nutrition and, once habituated, will return to areas where food is readily available.
Wildlife professionals often caution the public that "a fed animal is a dead animal."
This story will be updated as more information becomes available.