Wildlife Department Forced to Euthanize Black Bear in Norman Neighborhood

May 20, 2021

NORMAN — After hours of attempting to use tranquilizer darts to attempt to capture and remove a black bear from a family's backyard in the middle of a bustling Norman neighborhood, employees of the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation were forced to euthanize the animal when it posed an immediate threat to human safety.

The black bear was a younger male, yet perfectly capable of inflicting serious harm to human life in a densely populated area. Wildlife Department officials trained in such encounters followed standard procedures by first attempting to remove the bear alive to a more suitable area. Officials attempted several doses of tranquilizers, which ultimately failed to sedate the stressed bear until the final dose caused the bear to fall from the tree. Once sedated, officials hoped to collect the bear and remove it to its more natural habitat.

Unfortunately, the plan did not unfold as officials hoped. The bear never became totally sedated and began scrambling about the backyard with what appeared to be its full faculties approaching several adjoining neighbors' fences, which only would have spread the risk further. Rather than allow the situation to become life-threatening to the public, trained Wildlife Department staff euthanized the animal.

Wildlife Department spokesman Micah Holmes said when a situation develops between people and an animal, the safety of people must come first.

Black bears are generally found in southeastern Oklahoma and, to a lesser degree, northeastern Oklahoma and the western Oklahoma Panhandle. In spring, it is common for young male bears to be pushed out of their more natural habitat by dominant males establishing their breeding territory. Many times, bears will follow waterways for long distances. After over 20 years of research and management, the Wildlife Department has watched Oklahoma's bear population grow and flourish. This also means black bears are spreading westward across the state.

Holmes said sightings of black bears are becoming more common in central and southern Oklahoma, but having one in a large metro area was surprising. However, bears are known to seek out trash bins and pet food bowls kept outdoors in their search for food. It is not known if this was the reason a black bear ended up in a Norman neighborhood.

Oklahoma has an estimated population of about 2,500 bears. For years, the Wildlife Department has been conducting in-depth biological studies of black bears in Oklahoma. And about a decade ago, a black bear hunting season was established in southeastern Oklahoma as a viable way to manage the bear population.

As the state’s fish and wildlife agency, the decision to end this situation in Norman was a last resort, and was made only after hours of exhausting other, non-lethal options. Ultimately, human safety must be the priority.

The Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation is the agency responsible for managing the state’s wildlife and habitat resources. A staff of well-trained Game Wardens and knowledgeable wildlife and fisheries biologists respond to dozens of calls each month involving interactions between people and wildlife. The majority of these cases are resolved without any harm to the animals.

Black Bear General Information

  • Black bears are a native species to Oklahoma, but through unregulated harvest and habitat destruction they were removed from Oklahoma by the early 1900s. 
  • In the 1950s & ‘60s, Arkansas reintroduced about 250 black bears.
  • Soon, black bears expanded into Oklahoma, and the population here grew.
  • Since 2000, ODWC has spent millions of dollars to research and monitor black bear population study in eastern Oklahoma which continues to this day.  
  • Early summer is typically when the Department begins receiving reports of bear sightings. These reports are generally about yearling male bears that have just been kicked out on their own and are trying to avoid mature males, find their own home range, and find a good food supply.
  • For additional information on Oklahoma bears check out Bear Basics.

(For more information, contact Micah Holmes, (405) 990-1374, micah.holmes@odwc.ok.gov)