TALLADEGA, Al. – Matthew Gage Stewart, 22, of Talladega has been arrested and charged with killing a black bear on the Talladega National Forest in Clay County.
An officer with the Alabama Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries says Stewart killed the bear using a crossbow while hunting earlier this fall. Black bears are classified as game animals in Alabama, however there is no official hunting season for the animals and state law protects them due to low population numbers.
The 315-pound male black bear made headlines in June 2016 when it was tagged by Auburn University researchers and released on the Tuskegee National Forest in Macon County. The researchers tracked its movements throughout the summer.
When the bear was spotted in Opelika, the local residents tagged it on social media with the hashtag #OpelikaBear. An Opelika ice cream shop created a special flavor, bear claw coconut, in honor of the bear.
If convicted, Stewart could face a minimum fine of $2,000 and up to one year in jail. Stewart does not yet have an attorney for his defense.
Other penalties for attempting to kill a black bear include the loss of hunting and fishing license privileges for three years. Capt. Johnny Johnson of the Alabama Department of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries (WFF) said there will be consequences for anyone hunting black bears in Alabama.
“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.”
Black bears are secretive, shy animals who avoid human interaction. To keep black bears away from your home, try not to leave food out for other pets and be sure to secure trash bins and other sources of food black bears find attractive.