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Bear shooting ignites controversy

A bear that got its head stuck inside a plastic jug wandered through two counties for six days before being euthanized when wildlife officials couldn't get close enough to pry the jug off.

The bear's long odyssey came to a tragic end near Frazee July 26. The 2-year-old bear was first reported near Lake George July 21 with a 2 1?2-gallon jug jammed onto its head. It then made an extensive, almost 60-mile trip to Frazee.

Since news of the bear shooting broke, there has been widespread outcry and angry e-mails sent to the Frazee police. One e-mail was so threatening that it was referred to the city attorney for possible charges.

"They signed their name to it," Police Chief Mike Lorsung said about the e-mail, which he summarized as saying, "a jug should be put on my head and I should be shot."

On the Saturday that the bear wandered into Frazee, the closest DNR officer with bear expertise was 21?2 hours away. By the time it would have taken him to arrive, it would have been too dark and darting the bear would have been impossible.

The starving animal didn't linger in one place long enough to get a fix on its location, and driving to where the bear had been spotted and trying to hang around and wait for the chance that it might come back would not have been a good use of time, Lorsung said.

"They don't understand this is small town USA. We don't have tranquilizer guns available," he explained.

After being spotted in Lake George, it wandered to Itasca State Park, then stopped at a Boy Scout camp and finally found its way to Frazee.

The Turkey Days Celebration was being held in Frazee the day the bear wandered into town. It was initially seen on the 200 block of South Lake Street. It then moved to an alley behind a Frazee restaurant coincidentally called the Baer Building.

Once it was spotted in town, Frazee conservation officers decided it needed to be killed to avoid conflicts with humans.

"When it got into town, our main concern was public safety," Rob Naplin, Department of Natural Resources area wildlife supervisor said, "You don't want it knocking over a kid or getting hit by a car."

All tries to capture and tranquilize the animal had come to nothing. "There was virtually no opportunity for DNR staff to approach the animal for capture since we received reports of only brief sightings as the bear was moving many miles each day until it entered the town of Frazee," Naplin explained, "With all the people around... you're never sure what the outcome is going to be."

Naplin doesn't feel that the bear was being baited. The legal baiting season doesn't begin until Aug.15 with the bear season not opening until Sept. 1.

It's more likely an unfortunate accident that happened while the bear was looking for food.

"We're always encouraging the public to manage their refuse properly," said Naplin. "Bears are opportunist feeders. They get access to human food, they don't know whether it's good for them or not."