August 22, 2013 Updated: August 22, 2013 at 10:36 pm
A Rockrimmon man suspected of leaving food for the neighborhood's troublesome black bear population averted a trial Tuesday after agreeing to an out-of-court attempt to address state wildlife officials' safety concerns.
Under state law, Charles Medina, 63, faces a $68 fine if mediation talks scheduled for September fail to resolve a misdemeanor charge of luring bears.
But according to state wildlife officials, the stakes are much higher for bears drawn into the city's neighborhoods by the promise of an easy meal.
"The reality is, once bears have become habituated to people feeding them, we will have to put them down," said Colorado Department of Parks and Wildlife spokesman Randy Hampton, who also cited the potential for attacks on people.
Hampton, who declined to address the Medina case in detail because of the pending court case, said that "several" bears from the Rockrimmon neighborhood have been destroyed in recent years, though he couldn't immediately provide a number.
The Department of Parks and Wildlife has a long paper trail devoted to complaints about Medina and his wife, who live in the 500 block of Wintery Circle South.
While Medina is facing his first violation, his wife, Jo Ann, has been cited at least four times since 2007 for illegally feeding wildlife - each time after neighbors reported alarming encounters with black bears that frequented the Medinas' yard. Reports include complaints by a woman who said she was "charged" by a bear that frequently dined next door, and another involving a boy who had a close encounter with a bear while raking his yard.
In 2012, a neighbor said she saw as many as 10 separate bears make stops at the home after one of the residents distributed food of some kind.
Investigators summoned after one of the complaints found a number of plastic bins in the couple's backyard partially filled with dog food and birdseed, and more spread on the ground.
During an interview outside her home Thursday, Jo Ann Medina disputed that bears have been aggressive in the area, attributing the reports to neighbors who "hate wildlife." She said she used to spread seed in her backyard for birds and squirrels, but halted the practice on the advice of her attorneys after repeated citations.
She said bears seek out her yard for the acorns and apples that fall from her trees - not because of anything she or her husband are doing.
"To me, they're just getting ready for winter. It's not a big issue," she said.
In one wildlife officer's report, Jo Ann Medina is quoted as saying she spent nearly $1,200 a month on birdseed to keep deer fed in the winter - a claim she denies.
Charles Medina's attorney, Richard Garcia of Denver, said his client did not intentionally feed bears. He said problems arose from Medina's wife's practice of leaving out food for a cat.
"She has taken measures to not feed domestic animals outside, and that seems to have taken care of it," Garcia said.
Under the District Attorney's Neighborhood Justice Center mediation program, charges could be dismissed against Charles Medina if an agreement is reached with Division of Parks and Wildlife officers regarding unattended food on the property.
Black bear encounters are nothing new in Colorado Springs, where residential neighborhoods overlay bears' natural habitat, especially on the city's west side. The issue drew national headlines earlier this month when a black bear was captured on tape riffling through a trash bin outside the Edelweiss restaurant in southwest Colorado Springs. The restaurant later took steps to secure the bin to prevent return visits.
Under state wildlife provisions, it's the homeowner's responsibility to keep their property free of food sources for wild life, including pet food and garbage.
Most complaints are resolved with a written warning, said Hampton.