Charges unlikely for feeding bear |

Charges unlikely for feeding bear

Dennis Webb
Glenwood Springs correspondent
Aspen, CO Colorado

GLENWOOD SPRINGS ” The Colorado Division of Wildlife is leaning against issuing a citation against those who reportedly fed and petted a bear in West Glenwood, leading agency officers to shoot and destroy it Thursday night.

The couple said to be involved in the incident since has since moved from Ami’s Acres Campgrounds, where they apparently had been long-term residents, DOW officials said. Ami’s Acres representative Craig Amichaux declined to comment Friday.

DOW officials said making a citation stand up in court might be difficult. Area wildlife manager Perry Will also said the couple is very poor.

“Our full intent was to charge them. Our problem there is we did not see them do it. The other issue there is they probably couldn’t even pay the fine,” he said.

At the same time, DOW officials said the $68 penalty for violating the prohibition against feeding wildlife probably isn’t high enough to be a deterrent. They said the prohibition wasn’t written with this week’s situation in mind, and the agency is better served when municipal and county ordinances seek to minimize bear problems by dictating handling of trash, food and other attractants.

This week’s problems occurred in Garfield County, which has no such ordinance (see related story).

Will said the couple had admitted to petting the adult, female bear that officers eventually killed, and the man even told of picking up and carrying one of the bear cubs that has been running around West Glenwood with a mother bear. However, he didn’t admit to feeding bears. Will said a witness who said such feeding had occurred might be doubted in court because he reportedly had been involved in recent physical confrontations with the couple.

Feeding a bear is illegal. Petting one is not, although wildlife officials say it’s dangerous, and probably only can happen where people have been using food to attract a bear. The DOW decided to put down the bear because they feared it had become too used to humans and might attack someone who didn’t reward it with food.

Will said it appeared the couple may have been catching fish and throwing them to the bear. He said the witness also said the woman had tried to tame a chipmunk and skunk but they died.

Will said the man described the woman as “a Doctor Dolittle, basically” – a reference to the fictional figure who could talk to animals.

He said his efforts to make the man understand the problems their actions were causing seemed to go nowhere, and he thought a citation would have no better effect.

“This is not normally what we’d do but I don’t think a fine is going to gain us anything,” he said.

He said he believes the couple has moved to the Carbondale area, where he’s hoping they’ll have less opportunity to feed bears.

The DOW’s reluctance to write the couple a ticket bothers New Castle resident Jason Birmingham, who wrote a letter to the Post Independent.

“They openly admitted to feeding and petting that bear, the only reason that caused the death of that bear,” he said in an interview. “They walk away with nothing, no punishment at all. … What does that say to the public?”

He thinks it’s important to send a message to people about proper behavior while living in bear country.

“At some point you’ve got to stand up and say, you know, enough’s enough, you’ve stepped over the bounds and now you’ve got to pay for it,” he said.

DOW spokesman Randy Hampton said the agency’s prohibition against feeding is aimed more at wildlife management issues such as preventing wildlife from congregating and transmitting disease.

“We can only deal really with the wildlife, that’s our function. … We’re not geared to deal with more urban issues,” Hampton said. “We’re talking about stepping outside wildlife enforcement and into people enforcement.”

Some also have criticized the agency’s decision to shoot the bear, but DOW officials say safety required it and human actions led to it. The agency has been frustrated by a failure by homeowners and businesses to secure trash from bears in the Glenwood area, leading to numerous bear problems.

“We don’t like to shoot bears but there isn’t anything that we can do to the people,” Hampton said.

He said trying to find a zoo to take the bear wasn’t a realistic option. “Believe me, there’s no waiting list for black bears from zoos,” Hampton said.

The DOW destroyed the bear the same week that a black bear attacked and killed a boy who was camping in Utah. But Hampton said it would have taken the same action even if that attack hadn’t occurred.

He encouraged people upset about the situation to handle their own trash properly, get involved in promoting responsible behavior by others, and encourage the county to adopt a bear ordinance.

“We as an agency are grasping at straws to deal with a problem that we didn’t create and our enforcement, our regulations, aren’t really designed to deal with it,” he said.

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