Bears spotted in and around Denver searching for food

AP News
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Posted: Sep 04, 2015 5:50 PM

DENVER (AP) — When a helicopter circled her quiet suburban cul-de-sac early Friday, Carol Rose didn't think it was a manhunt or an air ambulance but instantly knew there must have been another bear sighting in the neighborhood.

About a half-hour later, a young black bear being tracked by authorities found its way into a backyard tree two houses away in Centennial.

It was eventually tranquilized as a small crowd, including excited children, gathered to see wildlife officers load it into a carrier for a trip back to the mountains, where they hope it will stay.

It was Rose's first time seeing a bear outside a zoo, and she let her 7-year-old granddaughter leave for school late so she could also witness the scene.

"Hopefully, he'll be relocated somewhere where there's plenty of food," said Rose, who watched the capture with fascination and sadness.

There are longstanding problems with bears getting into trash and even houses and cars in Colorado mountain communities, but in recent weeks the animals have ventured farther into the more populated Denver area as they struggle to find food to bulk up for their coming hibernation.

A combination of wet weather and sudden freezes in northeastern Colorado has stunted the growth of the berries they rely on for food in the mountains, prompting bears to follow creeks and greenways into town for other nourishment.

This year's berry crops are also thin in parts of Montana, pushing some bears to lower, more populated areas in that state.

On Tuesday, a black bear was euthanized after it lost its fear of humans and broke into at least one home in a neighborhood outside Billings, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks said.

The Denver area sightings, usually in the morning, have prompted school lockdowns and reverse 911 calls warning people not to let their children walk to school alone.

Rose got one of those warnings after a previous bear sighting Wednesday and said her granddaughter's school had been escorting children into school when they were dropped off and not allowing them on the playground as a precaution.

Authorities believe the healthy 2 1/2-year-old bear captured Friday was probably the same one that prompted the earlier 911 calls. He got an ear tag before being released to an undisclosed location and he could potentially be put down if he returns and becomes too accustomed to being around people.

A bear that caused two schools to be briefly locked down in the suburb of Arvada last week wasn't as lucky. She was about 15 years old and in poor health so wildlife officers decided to euthanize her out of concern that she would eventually starve to death.

In Denver, a 100-pound cub was tranquilized near the University of Denver and carried off by a police officer like an overgrown child. It was also relocated to the mountains.

A man in the foothills community of Evergreen, where bears are less rare, has been charged in the shooting of two cubs he found rummaging through his trash on Tuesday.

Daniel Williams told authorities he was trying to protect his dog after it ran outside. However, District Attorney Peter Weir said Williams' life wasn't in danger and he had no justification to shoot. Williams didn't return a call seeking comment.

Though the chokecherries and serviceberries coveted by bears are scarce, there is still some chance that acorns developing on gambel oak bushes will soon provide nourishment before cooler weather tells the animals it's time to hibernate, said Jennifer Churchill, a spokeswoman for Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

In the meantime, she urged people to resist trying to help the bears by feeding them.

"The best thing to do is respect their natural instincts and keep them afraid of people. That's what will help them survive," she said.