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Bear ends Morris visit early Friday

The black bear that took up residence in a tree on Morris' east side on Tuesday finally came down and headed out of town early Friday morning. Scott Kelly, who lives across the street from where the bear was hanging out, shot this photograph from his living room window on Thursday.

A black bear that wandered into town on Tuesday night decided three days in Morris was enough.

The burly, young adult ended his eventful but brief visit when he climbed out of the tree he called home on the east side of Morris and headed north out of town about 1 a.m. on Friday.

After leaving the tree, the bear stood around in the street near East 9th Street and Oregon Avenue for about five minutes while law enforcement backed off a couple of blocks. The bear crossed Highway 28 near the former Anderson Acres building, then took off running to the north, said Morris Chief of Police Jim Beauregard.

"Fortunately, it was pretty quiet down there," Beauregard said. "He hit a field north of town and away he went."

It was the best ending the public and law enforcement -- and the bear -- could have hoped for, Beauregard said.

"It's nice for the people living down there," he said. "We kind of held up their lives for a few days, but they were very considerate of what we were trying to do. The animal survived and it came to a good conclusion."

On Thursday, law enforcement and wildlife officials expressed concern that the bear might be injured more seriously than previously thought after a woman hit the bear with her car Tuesday night.

The bear climbed into the tree after police tried to chase it out of town, and then it didn't leave Wednesday night, prompting concern it might be injured. However, Beauregard said the animal appeared healthy and wasn't limping when he left Friday morning.

Department of Natural Resources Conservation Officer Tony Anderson said "he's off to do what bears do best: being a bear instead of a spectacle in town."

There's no feasible way to track the bear's movements without a radio collar, but Anderson suspects the bear will be avoiding towns and people if at all possible.

"This was by far the best option for everyone," Anderson said, although he joked that he's surprised the bear, like the law enforcement officials standing watch, wasn't tempted to stay longer by the smell of the chicken fryer at Willie's Super Valu.

The city's population has dropped by one, and Beauregard said he doesn't expect that the bear will be promoting Morris as a vacation destination among his family and friends.

"He'll be telling them, 'Don't go to Morris,' " Beauregard joked. " 'You'll get hit by a car, people will chase you and they won't give you any food.'"

Police first learned of the bear's presence in town when the woman reported hitting the animal with her car late Tuesday night.

Morris police responded and attempted to chase the bear out of city limits, but the bear instead climbed the tree and spent the night there.

Word spread quickly Wednesday morning and dozens showed up. People, including a group of daycare kids, walked up close to the tree to take a look. Police estimated that at least 100 people were around the area, watching, photographing and videotaping the bear. The bear also has a Facebook page, The Morris Black Bear. And countless photos of the bear have been circulating.

Police set up barricades on East 9th, East 8th and East 7th streets and at intersections on Oregon and California avenues.

Stevens County Sheriff's Posse members, police officers and Morris firefighters volunteered their time to man intersections to keep vehicle and pedestrians outside a two-block area around the bear.

Because of the volunteer help, the department's costs for monitoring the bear and keeping people out of the area haven't been excessive, Beauregard said.

"We paid a little overtime, but it's something we have in the budget for this kind of thing," Beauregard said. "Public safety is public safety, whether it's a murder case, something like this or a parade."

Anderson said officials weighed the options: tranquilizing the bear was dismissed. No one in the area has a tranquilizer gun, the shooter would have to be fairly close to the animal to ensure a direct hit, and even if the tranquilized bear didn't fall to its death, officials couldn't come up with an efficient and safe procedure for carrying it out of the tree.

Killing the bear also isn't feasible since it would involve shooting a high-powered rifle, into the air, in a residential area.

Waiting the bear out was the only way, Anderson said.

Anderson estimated the bear's weight at about 150 pounds and that it's likely about 18 months old. It probably was kicked out of its den by its mother and it has been wandering, searching for territory, he said.

DNR Area Wildlife Supervisor Kevin Kotts was in contact with DNR bear researchers in Grand Rapids, who advised leaving it alone and letting it make an exit when it felt comfortable.

Neither Kotts nor Anderson can recall a bear sighting in the Morris area. Kotts said he has received reports of bear wandering in Pope and Douglas counties, which have more wooded areas. That the bear made its way to Morris signals that it's probably a male.

"It's common for young males to be wandering," Kotts said.