PARKERSBURG -Parkersburg police Chief Joe Martin said law enforcement officials had limited options when a black bear was discovered roaming inside the city limits late Tuesday night.
"It's like herding cats," Martin said of trying to control the bear. "It went where it wanted to."
Martin said police officers do not carry tranquilizers. The state's Division of Natural Resources does, but Jeff McCrady, DNR wildlife biologist for District 6, advised officers sedating the bear was not a viable option.
McCrady advised officers to encourage residents to go home, put up dog food, garbage bags and leave the bear alone.
"He (the bear) would work his way back out of town," McCrady said. "That was not the case."
Officials said dozens of residents -including children - were roaming the area with flashlights looking for the bear.
Martin said the encounter resembled Parkersburg Homecoming, with so many residents on the street looking for the bear and watching things unfold.
"There was no way for us to herd the animal. There was nowhere for it to go," he said. "Our options were very limited and I didn't feel comfortable letting it roam," Martin said.
McCrady advised officers to take appropriate actions.
"If we can't get everyone indoors and leave him alone, we need to kill him and get it over with it," McCrady said he advised law enforcement at the time.
Martin said 911 officials got their first call about the bear around 11:45 p.m., when it was near Jefferson Elementary School. Over the course of an hour, emergency officials received approximately 12 calls concerning the bear, which was killed by officers around 12:30 a.m. Wednesday on Jackson Avenue.
Mark Perry said he lives on Liberty Street in Parkersburg and was driving in the area of Seventh Street by McClinton Chevrolet when he spotted what he at first thought was a large dog. He said he immediately called police when he realized what had actually crossed the path of his vehicle.
Perry watched as the bear traveled toward 14th and Latrobe streets. He said a friend on Facebook had posted the bear was killed near Quincy Hill. He said when he arrived in the area officers had already shot it.
"I was stunned. I couldn't believe it," Perry said of seeing a bear in town.
He lost sight of the bear after talking to officers near 13th and Latrobe streets but had confidence they knew where it was by using flashlights and lights from their vehicles.
"When it was running, it looked like it was only 125 pounds," Perry said. "That's crazy; it looks much bigger now (lying on the ground)."
Martin said the bear, estimated to stand about 6 feet tall and weighing 250-300 pounds, came within 10 feet of a pedestrian and was unfazed by the encounter. He said the bear casually walked by the woman.
"It was a big animal," Martin added. "It can run as fast as a dog. This was a 300-pound (wild) animal running where ever it wanted to."
City law enforcement officials have encountered an array of wildlife before: deer, coyotes, even an alligator. However, Martin said Tuesday's encounter was the first he ever heard of a bear inside the city limits.
"We've had reports of sightings, but nothing confirmed," Martin said.
McCrady said state game officials reported only one legal bear harvest in Wood County within the last few years.
Martin said officials had no clue where the animal came from. McCrady said bears have a large roaming area, encompassing thousands of acres.
"They travel hundreds of square miles," McCrady added.
Martin said officials had little choice other than to put the bear down. Parkersburg police officers as well as a Wood County sheriff's deputy used a shotgun to kill the bear.
"I realize it is the state animal," he said. "Our mission isn't to exterminate wildlife."
The carcass was turned over to the DNR. Wildlife officials will extract a tooth and have it tested to determine the bear's age, McCrady said.
"It's a big bear, and we think it has some age on it," he said.