Bear invades Vail townhome |

Bear invades Vail townhome

Matt Zalaznick

The bad news? A bear was standing in the living room.

“I was upstairs and heard all this noise and I thought someone’s breaking in,” Buncher says. “So I sneaked down and here’s this bear standing at a bar on the second floor.”

There is no extreme shortage of food this spring in the high wilderness, where the bears tend to roam, says Bill Heicher, district wildlife manager in Eagle. But hungry bears are again coming out of the woods looking for snacks –particularly garbage and pet food left outside homes by residents.

“Bears have phenomenal memories,” Heicher says. “If it got hand-outs before, it will come back and check. Not only do you have to do everything right to keep the bear away, your neighbors have to do everything right, too.”

Buncher says she hadn’t left any garbage outside her home on Golf Lane at the Vail Golf Course Townhomes Saturday morning. Her home is the last one next to the National Forest and she and her husband just installed a large deck.

“I heard they had been in the area and I was being very careful,” she says. “When we go out, I always close the door from the deck to the laundry room.”

Buncher has a storm door and a screen door leading from the laundry room to the deck. She says the storm door was open around noon Saturday while she made a quick trip upstairs.

And apparently, just the screen door didn’t keep the bear out.

“He just tore the thing right off and got in here,” Buncher says. “He was a pretty big size. From seeing him in front of the bar, he looked pretty well full-grown. It’s pretty frightening.”

Once inside, the bear quickly found some treats, she says.

“He got some cocoa and dumped it on the wood floor and tracked cocoa all over the place,” she says. “Then, he proceeded to urinate on a leather chair, on the rugs and floors.”

Vail police arrived and the bear escaped by breaking through another of Buncher’s screens and running off through the forest. Cleaners soon arrived to wash the soiled furniture and rugs.

Division of Wildlife officers from Glenwood Springs also responded to the domestic invasion.

“It’s fortunate he didn’t do anymore damage. What he did do was cleaned up,” Buncher says. “It was just frightening to come down and see a bear in your house.”

Wildlife officers don’t typically respond when a resident calls to complain about a bear walking through a backyard or digging in a garbage can. But bears who break into homes, or otherwise threaten humans, can be in danger themselves, Heicher says.

“If we have to deal with the bear on a hands-on type approach – trap it and move it – that’s considered one strike,” Heicher said. “The next time it gets into trouble, we have to kill it. But we do everything we can to avoid that.”

The first step residents can take is, simply, not leaving garbage or pet food outside their homes, Heicher says.

“We get hundreds of calls a month from people complaining about bears, and it’s just an amazing lack of common sense people show,” Heicher says.

Just storing garbage in a garage or shed may not keep the bears away, however, he says.

“Bears have a fantastic sense of smell,” Heicher says. “They can smell that trash. A flimsy door or window is not going to keep a 400-pound animal out if it wants to get in.”

The best way to keep bears away – though it’s a bit expensive – is to store garbage in a bear-proof garbage can, he said.

“The number of people who have bear-proof trash containers in this valley I can count on one hand,” Heicher says.

Bear proof trash cans can cost between a few hundred dollars to more than $1,000. Local trash haulers may have bear-proof trash cans available, or they can tell residents how to obtain them.

And no matter how clean a resident’s home is, a sloppy neighbor will still lure bears, he said.

“Bears are only doing two things – they’re either eating or breeding,” Heicher says. “So it’s not just “if I do everything right, I’m not gonna be visited by a bear.’ It’s the whole neighborhood.”

Oh –and about bears being afraid of people?

“Why should bears afraid of people? They may be wary of people, but a full-grown bear has the strength of three or four grown men,” Heicher says. “Fortunately, the black bears aren’t aggressive, so, if you encounter a bear, you should always give it plenty of room to escape.”

Vail police Officer Joe Busch says that as he patrols Vail it’s apparent many residents don’t heed warnings about leaving garbage outside.

“I see a lot of people with garbage out,” Busch says. “It’s a continuing problem. Once a bear finds a source of food, it keeps returning to that source.”

The best solution for bears and people?

“People should keep trash and pet food under control and be careful when leaving doors open,” Busch says. “They’ll eventually realize the food source has disappeared and move onto another area.”

Buncher, meanwhile, says she keeps all her doors closed now because the bear may come back for the cocoa. She has also taken other bear precautions, she says.

“I went out and bought myself an air horn,” she says. “I was outside gardening the other day and I kept the air horn nearby.”

Matt Zalaznick covers public safety, Eagle County Courts and Avon/ Beaver Creek. He can be reached at (970) 949-0555 ext. 606 or via e-mail at

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