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(Christian Murdock, The Gazette)

The La Plata County coroner has released the identity of a woman killed by a bear outside Durango on Friday.

Officials said 39-year-old, Laney Malavolta was walking her dogs in Trimble, a town 10 miles north of Durango, when she was attacked by a bear.

Malavolta was found dead after her boyfriend searched for her for more than an hour when her dogs returned home without her.

Colorado Parks and Wildlife officers responded and found evidence of consumption on her body and an abundance of bear scat and hair.

Wildlife crews and trained tracking dogs found a female black bear and two cubs and euthanized them. 

They were taken to a state wildlife health lab in Fort Collins for necropsies.

A wildlife pathologist found human remains in the digestive systems of the sow and one of her yearlings. No human remains were found in the second yearling.

An autopsy determined the cause of death as "perforating injury to neck."

Bear attacks in Colorado are rare, with Malavolta's death marking the fourth documented fatal encounter in Colorado, the wildlife agency said.

While violent incidents with bears are unusual, human-bear interactions are a widespread phenomenon in Colorado, especially the more human development and bear habitats overlap.

In 2020, Coloradans reported 4,943 bear sightings, 743 of which happened in Teller and El Paso counties, wildlife data showed.

"There's more overlap of bear habitat with the sprawling urban-rural kind of stuff that's going on with the people," Corey Adler, a district wildlife manger for Colorado Parks and Wildlife, said. "People are moving more into where bears like to hango ut and everything. That's why we have a lot of bear sighting."

The close proximity of bears to people means trash and bird feeders become an attractant for bears trying to satiate their appetite. 

That's why some neighborhoods on the west side of Colorado Springs decided to require residents to keep their trash in bear-resistant containers.

"Neighbors who are passionate about this are really passionate about it and they're calling and reporting it when they see a potential violation," Mitch Hammes, manger of the city's neighborhood services, said.

Residents' zeal to keep bears out of their trash translated into change, Adler said. 

"We're hoping that will initiate others in the neighborhood to be like, 'Oh yeah, that's good,'" Adler said. "We're seeing a slight improvement."

Bear activity is expected to be in full swing by May as most bears left hibernation between March and April, a fact that was glaringly apparent in Colorado Springs on Thursday after wildlife officers removed a 3- to 4-year-old black bear from a tree near a busy street downtown.

Rebecca Ferrell, a spokeswoman for Colorado Parks and Wildlife, said people outside, especially on hikes or alone in the woods, should be sure to not wear headphones, stay in pairs and make noise when possible.

If an encounter with a bear escalates, Ferrell suggested walking back slowly, not turning your back to the bear and talking to the bear in a normal tone.

But if a bear attacks, Ferrell said the best thing to do is "fight back."

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