Matthew Gage Stewart, 22, of Talladega, Ala., has been arrested and charged with killing a black bear on the Talladega National Forest in Clay County. Stewart killed the bear with a crossbow while hunting earlier this fall. He is scheduled to appear in Clay County District Court on February 7, 2017.
 
The 315-pound male black bear killed by Stewart made headlines in June 2016 when it was captured in Opelika, Ala., tagged by Auburn University researchers and released on the Tuskegee National Forest in Macon County. Throughout the summer the bear roamed north and was seen several times near Alexander City.
 
As sightings continue to increase, some have questions about the protected status of black bear. While classified as a game animal in Alabama, there is no established black bear hunting season in the state. Black bears are also protected by state law due to low population numbers.
 
Capt. Johnny Johnson, Supervising Conservation Enforcement Officer with the Alabama Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries (WFF) District 2 Office, said anyone shooting at or killing a black bear risks serious consequences.
 
“Hopefully this arrest will send a message and deter future violations related to our sparse black bear population,” Johnson said. “If you see a black bear, leave it alone. We want them in Alabama.”
 
This isn’t the first shooting incident to involve a black bear in recent years. In 2015, a Heflin man was arrested for shooting at a black bear seen roaming throughout town. The man received a one-year suspended jail sentence, nine months supervised probation and was fined $2,000 plus court costs. The bear in Heflin was unharmed by the incident.
 
Other potential penalties for attempting to take a black bear include the loss of hunting and fishing license privileges for three years and possible jail time.
 
Historically, a small population of black bear has remained rooted in southwest Alabama, primarily in Mobile and Washington counties. In recent years, bears migrating from northwest Georgia have established a small but viable population in northeast Alabama. WFF is currently working with other state and federal agencies to collect data on the state’s black bear population and movements.
 
Black bears are secretive, shy animals that will avoid human interaction. To avoid accidently attracting a bear to your home, feed pets just enough food that they can consume in one meal. Secure uneaten pet food, trash bins, bird and other wildlife feeders, as they are easy pickings for hungry young bears.
 
If you are lucky enough to encounter/observe a black bear, WFF offers these suggestions:
 
• Do not be frightened
• Do not approach the animal
• Do not run from the bear; back away slowly
• Stand tall and upright and make loud noises
• Avoid direct eye contact with the bear
• Make sure the bear has an unobstructed direction to escape
• Never purposely feed a bear
 
The public is encouraged to report black bear sightings online at https://game.dcnr.alabama.gov/BlackBear/. Black bear sightings can also be reported to WFF district wildlife offices, or by email to Thomas Harms at Thomas.Harms@dcnr.alabama.gov.
 
The Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources promotes wise stewardship, management and enjoyment of Alabama’s natural resources through four divisions: Marine Resources, State Lands, State Parks, and Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries. To learn more about ADCNR, visit www.outdooralabama.com. 

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Photo: The bear killed by Stewart made headlines in June 2016 when it was captured in Opelika, Ala., tagged by Auburn University researchers and released on the Tuskegee National Forest in Macon County.