DOW kills bear that broke into house
CARBONDALE ” An unusually large black bear topping 425 pounds was killed by Colorado Division of Wildlife officers Wednesday after it was trapped for busting through windows to enter an east Aspen house.
Wildlife officers said they had no choice but to euthanize the bruin because it physically smashed into the house rather than entered through an unsecured window or door.
It was the only bear killed by wildlife officers in Pitkin County so far this year. A resident shot a cub in Lazy Glen Mobile Home Park in the spring and was charged with a misdemeanor. That case hasn’t been resolved yet in court.
When a bear gets into a house through an open window, it is tagged and relocated if it is caught, said area wildlife manager Perry Will. Tagged bears get two strikes before they are killed. In this case, there were no second chances because of the bear’s potential for causing harm.
The bear invaded a home on Northway Drive near Aspen Grove Cemetery on Sunday. A trap was baited with food Monday and the bear was caught Tuesday night. It was hauled to Carbondale in the wire-cage trap Wednesday morning and taken to the wildlife division’s storage yard one mile south of Carbondale.
Will, the top wildlife division official in the area, and two wildlife officers had the grim task of tranquilizing the bear, then injecting it with a fatal mixture of potassium chloride.
“We didn’t get into this business because we hate wildlife,” Will said.
Will and Kevin Wright, the longtime wildlife manager for the Aspen district, said the bear was paying the ultimate price for humans making food sources available.
“This isn’t on my hands. It’s on the citizens of Aspen’s hands,” said Wright, who choked up more than once while making preparations to euthanize the bear.
The bear learned to associate homes with food, Will said. It likely was getting into trash and possibly even into unsecured houses before this latest incident.
“This bear right here is not a bad bear,” Will said. “He became a bad bear. That bear didn’t all of a sudden become a house-breaking bear.”
The wildlife officers stressed that the owner of the home that the bear broke into didn’t do anything wrong. And that’s the problem: Numerous Aspen-area residents take precautions to prevent bears from getting food, but the lack of action by others can habituate the animals. Bears learn to associate homes with food.
“This bear has learned its habits basically from people’s sloppy habits,” Wright said.
While Wright filled a dart with a drug called Telazol, the caged bear coincidentally gave a low, drawn out moan in its cage. When it was approached by a photographer or other person, it would chomp its teeth rapidly. Wildlife officer Brian Wodrich said that is the bear’s warning signal to stay away. An uncaged bear might follow that sound with a swat of its paw, he said.
At 10:20 a.m. Wednesday, Wright fired a dart into the bear’s butt. A tarp was placed over the cage to calm the beast and let the drug take effect. But the bear was so large, a second dart with a tranquilizer was needed 20 minutes later.
By 11 a.m. the bear was conked out, sprawled on the bottom of its cage. The three wildlife officers yanked him from his cage and rolled him on his back. A syringe filled with the potassium chloride was injected into an artery in his abdomen and the great bear gave a slow lurch to his right before he stopped breathing. He was dead in less than one minute from the injection and never showed signs of agony.
Wright said the process was more humane than shooting the bears.
The examination of the dead bear indicated he was “off the charts” for size. He had a girth of 52 inches around the midsection – higher than a DOW chart for determining weight. The best guess was he weighed 425 to 450 pounds.
He measured 80 inches from the tip of his nose to the tip of his tail. His massive hind paws were 6 by 8 inches.
Scarring of old injuries was apparent on his neck and shoulders. Fresher cuts apparently occurred when he crashed through the Northway Drive windows.
Wildlife officers were amazed that his two upper canine teeth were broken off. That could have happened from chewing on trash bins, Wright said.
Will said the big bear’s presence in Aspen was a bad harbinger of what’s to come this year. “He’s king of his range, I guarantee you that,” he said.
The bear would have chased other bears from his range and had access to natural food sources. Unfortunately, a late frost combined with the dry conditions heavily damaged the berry crop and all but killed the acorn crop, Wright said.
When a bear at the top of the pecking order is searching for food in a town, that indicates how poor the natural food crop is.
“This is a poor, poor year for bears,” Will said.
Bear encounters will likely get worse starting in mid-August when they go into a feeding frenzy to prepare for winter hibernation. Wright said they need to add 20,000 calories per day and will spend 20 hours per day seeking food.
The wildlife officers appealed to Roaring Fork Valley residents to take all precautions to prevent bears from finding human food sources – remove bird feeders, keep outdoor barbecues clean, don’t store pet food outside, close and lock windows and doors and secure trash.
Will said the wildlife division appreciates the efforts of most people in the area, but he also insisted that living in prime bear habitat comes with responsibilities.
“If you can’t live up to them, maybe you shouldn’t live here,” he said.
For more information about co-existing with bears, go to the wildlife division’s website at wildlife.state.co.us/ and click on the link for education. From there, click on the link for living with wildlife and find the section on black bears.
Scott Condon’s e-mail address is email@example.com
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