A nuisance bear vs. a threatening bear
When news first emerged that a Woody Creek man had killed a young bear and tossed its body in the Roaring Fork River, he asked that people wait until all the facts were in before forming an opinion.
Now more information is available, after a District Attorney’s Office announcement this week. And although prosecutors decided not to charge Patrick Fox in the case, Fox is still apt to be judged critically in the court of public opinion.
Deputy District Attorney Lawson Wills said his decision against filing charges stems from new state legislation giving people greater latitude in killing threatening bears. That legislation does indeed make it harder to make a legal case against Fox, but his actions remain questionable on moral grounds.
According to an investigation by the DA’s office, the bear had “taken residence” on Fox’s property for at least two days, partly due to dog food left in the area, by Fox or someone else. After unsuccessfully trying to scare it off with pepper spray capsules released from a gun, Fox shot it.
The new law allows for trapping, killing or disposing of bears, mountain lions or dogs without a permit when necessary to protect livestock, real property, a motor vehicle, or a human life. Wills notes that Fox was concerned about damage the bear was doing to trees. Fox also said the bear came within 40 feet of a disabled person on the property.
But Wills believes the bear wasn’t aggressive, and was more of a nuisance than a threat.
Still, Wills’ decision was right. It would have been hard for him to prove the shooting wasn’t necessary, given the circumstances of the case and the intent of the new law, even if it doesn’t take effect until Aug. 6. But it remains troubling that, before reaching for his gun, Fox didn’t consult with the state Division of Wildlife. DOW might have been able to get involved in removing the food source and finding a nonlethal way to get rid of the bear.
Also, Fox’s dumping of the body afterward suggested little intention of reporting the death as required within five days. But there’s no way of knowing, since a neighbor reported the incident a day after it occurred.
Fox’s actions might at least approach the letter of the new law. But they don’t meet the spirit of how humans should interact with bears if both are to co-exist peacefully in Colorado. By working more cooperatively with DOW, people generally should be able to avoid taking the kinds of actions Fox felt to be necessary.
Also, people need to think differently about taking an animal’s life when only property, versus livestock or human lives, is at stake. If the new law results in repeated examples of people acting on their own to kill predators where lesser actions should have sufficed, it will be time to question the law as much as the killers.
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