A bear that came within a few feet of two children playing outside near Vallecito Lake was tracked and euthanized this week.
“It sounds like a broken record, but conditions are extremely bad for bears,” said Matt Thorpe, wildlife manager for Colorado Parks and Wildlife. “And unfortunately, as a result, some of these bears are demonstrating behaviors we just can’t tolerate.”
Cristy Holley of Bayfield said she was cleaning a house she caretakes on the east side of Vallecito Lake around 10 a.m. Tuesday when she heard her two boys’, ages 4 and 6, normal playing voices turn into a “blood curdling scream.”
Holley said that instantly her “mom instincts kicked in,” and suspecting a mountain lion or bear, she ran out of the house, waving her arms and yelling, to find a bear within 3 feet of her two boys.
Holley said the boys ran to her, and the bear, unfazed by her attempts at making noise and looking big, started coming after them. The boys were able to make it into the house, she said.
“He (the bear) looked at me like, ‘Who are you and what are you doing? That was going to be my meal,’” Holley said. “If I had gotten there five seconds later, he would have had one of them. There’s no doubt in my mind. You can just tell that he didn’t want to back down from his meal.”
Holley called CPW to report the incident. Thorpe said someone with Wildlife Services was able to pursue a bear matching Holley’s description with tracking dogs and euthanize it.
Thorpe said it’s likely that this same bear was involved in a similar incident a few days earlier when a jogger in the area reported a bear was stalking her down a Forest Service road.
Thorpe said the bear was a young male between 100 and 125 pounds.
“We don’t like killing bears … but we have to be more concerned about public safety,” Thorpe said.
He said another bear was killed around 10 p.m. Friday when a landowner near Durango West and Lake Durango shot a bear that had killed some chickens.
Regardless, the two incidents continue to highlight an incredibly active year for human-bear conflicts, as a poor natural-food cycle has pushed the animals to find alternative food sources, mainly from humans, such as trash or bird feeders.
A July 6 article in The Durango Herald reported four bears were killed in one day in separate incidents in Vallecito, Pagosa Springs and Cortez. Homeowners killed two after bears entered their homes, and Wildlife Services euthanized two because they killed livestock.
“This is my fifth summer down here, and this is by far the largest call volume and number of incidents we’ve had,” Thorpe said.
Bryan Peterson of Bear Smart Durango said this year is the busiest bear season since the natural-food failure year of 2012. He said that while rain may help, the late frost in June is likely to take a toll on late summer acorns, an important staple to a bear’s diet.
“It may get worse before it gets better,” he said.
But Peterson added that the increase of bear activity in the area cannot solely be blamed on a bad natural-food year.
“Residents, for whatever reason, are still not making the connection with making human foods, such as trash and bird feeders, available to bears and having bears around,” he said.
“We have simply not done what is needed as a community in reducing the vast amount of human foods available to bears and are now paying the price for this complacency and inaction.”
Peterson said he received four reports of bear incidents Wednesday morning, involving trash, bird feeders and a chest freezer stored outside.