Bears shot dead Once upon a time there were three little bears.
After a summer of fire, drought and dislocation, they awoke to a spring ripe with nuts and berries.
Near the town of Florissant, they grew fat with their mama, who grew even fatter. That all three survived into autumn testifies to the fecundity of their habitat, says Todd Malmsbury of the Colorado Division of Wildlife.
Unfortunately, the three bears' mama had a problem. A problem that most agree is not a bear problem but a human one: She developed a taste for chickens and goats, and instilled it in her cubs.
Two weeks ago, Florissant resident John Dillon, who owned two milking goats that the bears had mauled, shot and killed the 350-pound mama bear and one of the cubs.
Dillon was, according to Teller County DOW manager Tonya Sharp, within his legal rights to shoot them. Colorado statute 33-3-106 allows landowners to shoot a predator if it's caught attacking their livestock.
DOW spokesman Malmsbury says that state law doesn't make a distinction between a subsistence farmer shooting a predator to protect his bread and butter, and those who own livestock as primarily a lifestyle choice.
Dillon and his wife Michelle, who run an excavation business, have a home on five acres and raise horses, chickens and goats.
Many Florissant residents are angered by the deaths of the bears, even those who have also been harassed by them.
Steve Masterson, who lives near the Dillons, says he found the sow and cubs in his own chicken coop several times this summer.
"They came up to our place and tore the place apart. Fifteen chickens over three nights," Masterson said.
Masterson agrees the bears were a problem. Having lived in the area for 20 years, he's dealt with bears before. But these weren't what he calls "normal garbage eaters."
Masterson and Michelle Dillon said that when they yelled and screamed, the bears merely returned a blank stare. If they fired shots in the air, the bears would return the following afternoon.
John Dillon says that when the bears became a nuisance, he contacted the DOW's Sharp, who advised them they could try to deter the bears using rubber buckshot or M-80 firecrackers. She also told them they were within their legal rights to kill the bears.
In a separate incident a year and a half ago, the Dillons shot a male bear who was attacking their horses. Sharp said she was familiar with the Dillons' situation, though she did not personally inspect the area after receiving calls over this year's bears.
Sharp herself is no stranger to controversy. Two years ago, residents of Woodland Park petitioned for her firing after she ordered the shooting of the town's de facto mascot, Squeak the Elk. At the time, Sharp maintained, and an investigation corroborated, that the elk was incapable of living in the wild. Reared by humans after its mother was killed by a car, the young elk became too intimate with people, making it a liability to traffic. But the elk's death spurred community outrage.
A similar sentiment is currently brimming in Florissant, where Masterson and others believe the DOW should have relocated the bears.
"If it's a livelihood I can understand: protect your livelihood," said Ingrid Raubenheimer, a Florissant resident who often watched the sow and cubs playing in her birdbath. "It just seems like a total waste to shoot these magnificent creatures."
Sharp says the DOW does not automatically relocate problem bears. She knows her decision not to relocate the bears has made a lot of residents unhappy, but says that trapping all four was implausible.
Moreover, Sharp said that "bears live by their stomachs" and once they've learned to associate people with food, relocation won't solve anything. "Where are we going to move them in Colorado that there's no people?" Sharp asks.
Michelle Dillon says that shooting the bears was not something that she and her husband relished doing. Her goat pen has 6-foot metal fortified fences, and she doesn't leave her trash out. She says she's doing everything to live responsibly in bear country. The DOW provides free electric fencing for the protection of livestock, however she says she was not aware of that.
"It's not entertaining," Michelle Dillon said of the killings. But, she maintains, they had no choice.
Both Michelle Dillon, her neighbor Debbie Winking and the DOW's Sharp say that the source of Florissant's bear problem is that people are feeding them. Though feeding bears is illegal, Winking claims she's aware of several people who leave them fruit and sugar water.
The DOW's Sharp said the remaining cubs are old enough to survive on their own through their first winter. However, she also said that the bears likely wouldn't make it through the winter because they were raised without fear of humans and rely on them for food.
Recently, the two orphaned bears showed up on Raubenheimer's deck where she watched them try to eat her cactus. They didn't like the taste and ran off.
-- John Dicker