EAGLE, Colorado - The Colorado Division of Wildlife is looking for two or more people who were seen hand feeding burgers to a black bear and three cubs over the noon hour on Wednesday at Burger King in Eagle.
"This is an extraordinary example of stupid and irresponsible behavior by people," said DOW Northwest Regional Manager Ron Velarde.
"Because of their reckless actions, the sow and cubs now know that people mean food. This dramatically increases the likelihood that these bears will get into trouble in the future and have to be put down," Velarde added.
Eagle District Wildlife Manager Brian Wodrich said he had previously received a report that this sow had entered a vehicle in the area and took food. The incident at the Burger King will further condition the bears to associate people with an easy meal, Wodrich said.
The Eagle Police Department reported first receiving calls around 12:20 p.m. on Wednesday from people observing a sow bear and cubs rummaging through an unsecured dumpster at the restaurant. This attracted a small crowd of onlookers.
An Eagle police officer also reported that witnesses at the scene said that they saw at least two people buying hamburgers and hand feeding them to the bears.
The Division of Wildlife is now asking the public for help in identifying those involved. A person convicted on a charge of feeding wildlife is subject to hefty fines, said DOW spokesman Mike Porras.
Eagle's Burger King is very close to the Eagle exit from I-70, making it a popular stop for long-distance travelers.
"It's possible that the people who fed the bears are long gone," said DOW Area Wildlife Manager Perry Will. "But what might have started out as a great photo opportunity for them creates a big problem for us. Locals and visitors alike need to understand that we will not tolerate anyone putting our citizens and our wildlife at risk."
Will encouraged anyone who observes people feeding bears in any situation to call a Division of Wildlife office.
The incident also highlights the gradual process of convincing municipalities to require bear-proof dumpsters.
In Eagle, Wodrich has encouraged businesses to use bear-resistant trash dumpsters and remove bear attractants such as food, trash and bird feeders.
"The town of Eagle currently does not have ordinances that require bear-resistant trash dumpsters, which are a great way of keeping bears out of trash," said Wodrich. "We always encourage people and businesses in bear country to do their part to help reduce conflicts with wildlife."
To provide information about the incident, contact the Division of Wildlife office in Glenwood Springs at (970) 947-2920.