Wildlife officer forced to shoot bear in Grand County campground
July 10, 2008
A Colorado Division of Wildlife officer was forced to kill a charging bear at Willow Creek Campground on Wednesday.
A young male bear spotted three times Wednesday lingering in and near the campground, which appeared to be devoid of food attractants, charged District Wildlife Manager Kirk Oldham after he tried to scare the bear away by shooting it with rubber slugs.
The incident occurred around 6 p.m. when the bear returned to the campground located near Willow Creek reservoir and planted himself about 10 yards away from a family camping there.
Using a non-lethal deterrent, Oldham shot rubber slugs at the bear. But rather than flee, the bear “put his head down and was chomping his lips,” Oldham said.
Upon shooting another beanbag round, the bear “charged straight at me,” he said, forcing the officer to shoot to kill.
“It’s very strange behavior,” said DOW spokesperson Randy Hampton. “Bears wander into campgrounds to look for food, but they normally don’t go there to take a nap.”
The bear’s lack of fear is also considered odd, he said.
In talking with 10 wildlife officers since the incident, with more than 100 years combined experience, “They’ve never heard of or had something like that happen,” Hampton said.
It’s also unusual the bear felt comfortable in a human-occupied area during daylight hours, according to Oldham.
“He seemed to be really tied to that campground,” Oldham said, adding that he was glad it was he who ultimately confronted the bear rather than a camper throwing rocks at the bear.
One explanation for the bear’s behavior is that he may have considered the site his home range, Oldham offered. This particular male bear may have come in contact with other bears to defend the spot; as a rule, male bears are very territorial.
A necropsy performed Thursday revealed the bear had not been fed human food recently, canceling a possible reason why the bear chose to linger close to humans.
“There is still the possibility that a week ago someone in the campground fed the bear, and he came back to look for that,” Hampton said.
DOW officials report there have been several bear sightings this season in the Fraser Valley and Grand Lake area. In most cases, the lure is human trash.
The DOW reminds residents and visitors to be mindful of trash so that bears do not become habituated to populated areas. In rare cases, a bear can be killed for its repeat dependency on human food sources.
It’s not a choice any wildlife manager wants to make, Oldham said.
“It’s a last resort, it’s not something any of us want to do or get a joy out of, it’s something we have to do. When the public is at risk, we need to respond appropriately. When people live in mountain communities, we have a responsibility to work with people to co-exist with these guys… Sometimes wildlife is unpredictable.”
” Tonya Bina can be reached at 887-3334 ext. 19603 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.