Home National Shooter in Heflin Bear Incident Receives Probation and Fine

Shooter in Heflin Bear Incident Receives Probation and Fine

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Shooting at a black bear has consequences in Alabama. Justin Gossage, 24, was arrested and charged with attempting to take a black bear in Heflin, Ala, in June. During a court hearing in Cleburne County District Court on August 5, Gossage pleaded guilty to the shooting and received a one-year suspended jail sentence, nine months supervised probation and was fined $2,000 plus court costs.

In Alabama, shooting at a black bear is a Class A misdemeanor, which carries a potential minimum fine of $2,000. Other penalties for attempting to take a black bear include the loss of hunting and fishing license privileges for three years and possible jail time.

Bear sightings in Alabama have been increasing in recent years. The bear in Heflin was unharmed by the incident and was allowed to find its way back into a wooded area near Sugar Hill Road where the shots were fired.

Capt. Johnny Johnson, Supervising Conservation Enforcement Officer with the Alabama Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries (WFF) District 2 Office, assisted in the initial investigation and said anyone shooting at a black bear risks serious consequences.

“Hopefully this court action 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 and welcome them in Alabama.”

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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