By Cory Smith and Kelli Ameling
GREENVILLE — A black bear that entered the city limits of Greenville Sunday night has safely traveled back outside the city and into a wooded area away from local residents.
Around 7:30 p.m. a black bear was spotted in the front yard of a home on Sixth Street near Coffren Street.
The bear managed to climb up a tree, attracting many residents who gathered around to watch the rare sighting as the Greenville Department of Public Safety set up a perimeter around the bear.
According to John Niewoonder of the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Belding office, the bear climbed down the tree and back up again, until finally retreating from the tree and traveling further south toward the Flat River.
“He wanted to go into town further,” Niewoonder said. “We were able to get him to go south from that location. We followed him for a while until he got into an area where we couldn’t follow him any further.”
According to Niewoonder, the bear was about 2 to 3 years old and weighed approximately 150 to 180 pounds.
Niewoonder said the bear was last sighted around 10:45 p.m. near Fairplains Street where it continued into a wooded area beyond the city.
“We thought the bear headed east and went out of town across Walnut Street, but then we had reports of him back in town near the river near Washington Street,” he said. “The last report of a spotting was near Fairplains Street.”
Niewoonder, who was directly involved in tracking the bear on scene, said everything went about as well as he could have hoped.
“In other cities these type of situations have been completely mishandled at times and often result in a dead bear,” he said. “The police and the firemen did an outstanding job.”
According to Niewoonder, efforts to tranquilize the bear were only considered as a last option.
“There are a lot of complications that come up when trying to tranquilize a bear,” he said. “The bear could fall from the tree and injure itself and often times you can overdose them or underdose them. Then you have to deal with the bear once he is down.”
Niewoonder said the nearest tranquilizer is located in Muskegon or Lansing.
“We don’t have the drugs and the dart gun here in Belding. We don’t keep it stored here locally,” he said. “The drugs are a controlled substance and have to be kept in a secure location.”
According to Greenville Department of Public Saftey Director Mike Pousak, the “extremely large crowd” that gathered at the first sighting of the bear on Sixth Street contributed to the length of time the bear spent in town and could have complicated things further had the bear directed itself toward the crowd.
“You don’t want to become part of the crowd mentality, stay in your house until the situation is rectified,” Pousak said. “It frightens him and prevents him from leaving. I know it’s an oddity, but it just adds more difficulty to the situation.”
Officers were asking people to stay inside while the bear was on the loose, however if it had began to charge a civilian, the officers would have been required to shoot it.
Niewoonder said black bears are normally not considered to be dangerous, but if the bear were to return to a populated area, people should avoid panicking and stay in their homes or car.
“Your first reaction — don’t panic or run,” he said. Just get out of there calmly, get in your car or house. You don’t have to overreact, the bear is not interested in you. It’s probably looking for some food, possibly a bird feeder or a dumpster. You should call Central Dispatch or the Greenville Department of Public Safety.”
The Montcalm County Sheriff’s Office and Michigan State Police assisted on the scene.