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Bears, bears everywhere

Matt Zalaznick

Actually, it was more of a confrontation with a bunch of grapes.

And a woman who lives behind the Cascade Resort found a bear lunching on bird feeders Friday afternoon in the old gondola car she keeps behind her home.

“They’re thick this year,” Vail police Sgt. Steve Wright said.



Holly Canfield, who lives in the Ptarmigan Townhomes on West Gore Creek Drive in West Vail, was sitting out by the condo pool around 1:30 p.m. when she heard the screen door fall off her back door, is a few feet away on the other side of a high, wooden fence.

Since the sliding screen door is rickety and often falls down of its own accord, she didn’t think much of the crashing sound.



But when she headed home a few minutes later she realized with a shock that it wasn’t the gentle mountain breeze that had torn the screen door off – it was the medium-sized black bear standing next to her couch.

“I ran back to the pool and I thought it was going to chase me,” Canfield said. “Then I went back with some neighbors and the bear was sitting on the kitchen floor eating grapes out of the fridge.”

Canfield said she and her neighbors went around the house and pounded on the front door to scare the bear off.



“He peed everywhere,” she said. “Then he ran out the back door. I guess he didn’t have time to sit, get into the fridge and have a really good lunch.”

Nancy Hovey, who lives on Westhaven Circle above the Cascade Resort in Vail, was in her front yard gardening shortly after 1 p.m. when she caught a glimpse of what she thought was a dog.

But she wasn’t that frightened when she realized it wasn’t a dog, Hovey said.

“I was surprised. When he growled I was a little scared,” Hovey said.

Hovey went inside to get her camera and when she made it to her back porch, the bear was snacking on bird feeders that hang from an old Vail Mountain gondola car she keeps in her yard.

“He was just sitting there very happily,” Hovey said. “Last October, it was around three in the morning, we came out because we heard a noise and there was a bear in the gondola, one on top of the gondola and one outside the gondola.

“It’s turned into a bear house,” Hovey said.

The Vail police department’s chief weapon against bears is a pepper spray gun, which Officer Chuck Owens used to chase the bear from Hovey’s backyard – and through several adjoining backyards – Friday afternoon.

“It’s kind of like a paintball,” Owens said. “It irritates their nose and eyes. We try to shoot it a little bit in front of the bear, or just above them, so they get a good whiff of it and it scares them off.”

Owens fired several pepper balls –the gun makes a loud popping sounds –and the small brownish bear hurried off through the woods behind Hovey’s home.

The pepper spray guns are actually made for riot control. But because Vail doesn’t have a lot of riots –especially since last summer’s July 4 crackdown on Bridge Street –the laser-sighted pepper gun is used to chase bears away instead of pinpointing rabble-rousers in the midst of a riot, Owens said.

“It does a pretty good job,” he said.

Owens asked Hovey to take down the bird feeders hanging from the gondola. Bears are attracted to bird feeders, pet food, garbage and just about any other edible scrap that residents leave on their porches or outside their homes.

And bears aren’t afraid to go into a home, if a door is open. And as in Canfield’s case, the bears will tear off screens to hunt for food inside.

Last weekend, a bear tore through a screen door of a home on Golf Lane in the Vail Golf Course Townhomes and snatched cocoa out of a cabinet and then spilled it all over the floor.

The woman who lives in the home, came downstairs and found the bear standing at a bar in the livingroom. After urinating all over the furniture, the bear bashed through another screen door and ran off into the woods.

Wildlife officers say the best way to keep bears away is to buy a bear-proof garbage can. Those can cost anywhere from a few hundred dollars to over $1,000.

And even with bear-proof trash cans, a messy neighbor who keeps garbage outside, can still lure bears to the neighborhood.

Wildlife officer Kelly Wood, who patrols the Basalt area, said homeowners who discover a bear in their home should open their windows and doors and get out of the house. Eventually the bear will leave.

“If a bears gets trapped inside, you’re not going to like what it does,” said Division of Wildlife officer Kevin Wright, who patrols the Aspen area. “Don’t ever block its escape route.”

There have been no known attacks by bears on humans in the Roaring Fork or Eagle River valleys, he said.

When bears enter a home they are looking for food, “not to chew the leg off somebody,” Wright said.

When Vail police are called about a bear on a porch or strolling through a yard, officers’ will always try to scare it off, Detective Sgt. Mike Warren said.

“I can’t even remember the last time we shot a bear,” Warren said. “We realize that we’re kind of living in their home so we do everything possible to chase the bear away and then try to educate people and prevent it from happening again.”

Bears have been spotted throughout Vail over the past few weeks. A series of dry winters winters have left slim pickings on the berry bushes the bears feed on.

There have been frequent sightings on Red Sandstone Road and in the Chamonix area of West Vail. A bear that was runover and killed on I-70 Wednesday night may have been the one spotted around Red Sandstone Road.

The collision with the bear caused a five-car pileup, though none of the drivers was seriously injured.

Some residents hesitate to call police about a bear because they’re afraid officers will come and kill it. Vail officers try to scare bears away with the pepper spray because Division of Wildlife officers typically do not respond to everyday bear-in-the-backyard calls.

But if the bear is threatening a person, wildlife officers who respond will try to trap and relocate the bear.

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

The black bears that roam the woods and wilderness of the valley are not as aggressive as their grizzly cousins. A black bear, if it has a clear escape route, will usually saunter off before attacking a person –even though they’re about four times a strong as most people, wildlife officials say.

But that doesn’t mean the black bears aren’t dangerous.

“We’ve been chased by bears in the past,” Warren said. “Several years ago, an officer was going around a house after a bear. The bear was coming around one corner and the officer was going around another corner and they came face-to-face.”

The officer decided against attempting to detain and question the bear, Warren said.

“The officer started running and the bear chased him,” Warren said. “When he realized he wasn’t going to outrun the bear, he pulled his weapon and told bear to freeze. And the bear actually stopped.”

So, valley residents are discouraged from confronting a bear – even if it’s at the fridge gobbling up the leftovers you planned to have for dinner that night. .

“Somoene’s gonna be stupid when they find one, like hit it with a broom, and something bad’s gonna happen,” Warren said.

Bear killed in 5-car accident

Ice, boulders, car parts – there can be a lot of obstacles in the road in the Rocky Mountains but a black bear isn’t usually among them.

But Wednesday night, a bear is what stunned drivers headed down Interstate 70 through West Vail had to deal with.

“Apparently the bear ran out into the roadway and caused a series of accidents,” Vail police Sgt. Steve Wright said. “The bear was killed by one of the vehicles.”

None of the drivers or passengers in the five vehicles – one of which was a big rig –were seriously injured in the pileup, which occured around 9:50 p.m. near the stretch of I-70 between the Roost Lodge and Donovan Park, Wright said

A few people had minor injuries treated at the scene of the accident by paramedics, Wright said.

Bears have again emerged from the woods and into town to search for food. Vail police believe the bear killed on I-70 had been frequenting Red Sandstone Road over the previous few days.

Wildlife officials say bears have made more trips into the towns of the valley over the past few years because a series of dry winters have left fewer berries on the trees in the high wilderness where the large animals prefer roam.

But bears are more frequently seen in garbage cans than on the interstate.

“This is a very rare occasion,” Wright said. “In my 10 years in Vail, this is only the second one I know of being killed on the highway.”

The bear’s carcass was removed from I-70 by Division of Wildlife officers. Wright, and other Vail polices officers, say there appear to be more a few more bears roaming around town this spring.

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 mzalaznick@vaildaily.com.

Aspen Times reporter Scott Condon contributed to this report.


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