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'Dangerous' bear under a death sentence as Colorado Springs woman deals with backlash

June 28, 2017 Updated: June 30, 2017 at 6:08 am
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The same bear that snatched ice cream M&M's from a Broadmoor-area resident's freezer on Tuesday surprised another homeowner just a few blocks away.

A video Denielle Backstrom provided to The Gazette, which begins with a frantic "AHHHH!," shows the bear moseying around her garage. From inside her SUV, she honks her horn, eventually rolling down the window to tell the bear to "shoo!"

Backstrom said she had just opened her garage door to pull in after dropping her children off at the nearby Cheyenne Mountain Zoo when the bear ambled in.

"I was like, 'No one is going to believe a bear is this close to me. I'm going to film this,'" she told The Gazette.

She reported the encounter to Colorado Parks and Wildlife, which declared the bear "dangerous." Because the animal has become habituated to humans, it will have to be trapped and euthanized, said agency spokesman Bill Vogrin.

Typically, if a bear is found wandering around a neighborhood, officers will try to "haze" it by making loud noises, using pepper spray or even firing rubber bullets to shoo the animal away and discourage it from returning, Vogrin said. If the bear appears again, the animal is generally tagged, transported and released back into the wild.

But in this case, the bear was so unfazed by humans that officers couldn't afford to give it another chance, Vogrin said.

"That's our last resort. We hate having to do that," Vogrin said. "But human health and safety is our primary concern, and when they become dangerous, we're left with no choice."

Near Denielle's house, a trap has been set and baited with donuts, icing, syrup and dog food, she said.

Officers estimate the bear weighs more than 400 pounds - much heavier than the average adult bear, which typically grows to be between 120 and 300 pounds in the wild. The animal has likely strayed from a natural diet of berries, nuts and grasses, instead munching on bird seed, dog food and whatever else it can find.

"We want them to stay on the salad bar," Vogrin said. "We don't want them eating garbage out of trash cans."

The video, which was posted online by The Gazette and local television stations, has drawn some hateful comments from those who blame Denielle for the bear's fate,

"I think it was just important to me that people understand that we try to be bear aware," she said. "We live in Colorado. We love the wildlife."

Vogrin said she did the right thing by calling Parks and Wildlife immediately. But others in her neighborhood likely saw the bear, which officers estimate has frequented the area for years, and made a mistake by not reporting the animal.

"This woman is not to blame, but someone in her neighborhood sure is," he said. "People need to help us keep wild animals wild."

Parks and Wildlife officials estimate the agency has to tag and relocate roughly 100 bears and euthanize about 100 more across the state each year. This will be the first time this year that the agency's Colorado Springs office has had to put down a bear, Vogrin said.

In August 2015, officers had to euthanize two bears just days apart after they were found near the northwest Colorado Springs home of a woman who was known to feed the animals. The resident, Jo Ann Medina, was arrested on suspicion of a misdemeanor the previous week after years of warnings and citations for her reported handouts.

That September, a bear cub made headlines when he wandered into Louie's Pizza on North Tejon Street before lapping up some cinnabread icing and falling asleep on a storage rack. The bear, which was malnourished and had an injured leg, was taken to a wildlife rehabilitation facility and released in southern Colorado more than a year later.

Residents - especially those on the city's west side, where wildlife encounters are more common - should keep trash bins inside closed garages, store food in bear-proof containers and bring bird and pet feed inside at night to prevent unwelcome visitors, Vogrin said.

Those who see bears in their neighborhoods should call the nearest Parks and Wildlife office. The Colorado Springs office can be reached at 227-5200.

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Contact Rachel Riley: 636-0108

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