Public Safety Drives CPW’s Bear Euthanasia Policy | Local news stories


At the end of April, the worst outcome imaginable in human-wildlife encounters occurred.

Laney Malavolta, 39, was fatally mutilated by a bear while walking with her dogs on April 30 near Durango. Colorado Parks and Wildlife officials later found a sow with two yearlings near Malavolta’s body, who were killed in accordance with CPW policy. An autopsy revealed human remains in the stomachs of mother bear and one of the yearlings.

Wildlife officials have long raised public awareness to avoid wild animals such as bears and to take steps to deter them from leaving populated areas and homes. A problem bear – a bear that keeps going back to the same garbage bin or the same fruit tree – could be moved. An injured bear who can be healed and live safely in the wild again could visit one of the state’s wildlife rehabilitation facilities. But a bear that injures or kills a human is out of the question, no matter how reluctant authorities are to put it down – it’s a matter of public safety, CPW said.

“Whatever we do in terms of bear management, ultimately human health and safety should always be our first priority,” said Rachel Sralla, Wildlife Manager for the CPW area in Montrose.

“As soon as a bear starts doing things that could endanger people, we have to take it very, very seriously. If the bear starts to show aggression towards people, we want to analyze that. If a bear begins to break into structures and homes, it usually does so in search of food, but this is something to be taken seriously.

CPW officials said the bear that killed Malavolta was more likely than other bears to attack humans again: once they identify the food sources, the bears will come back to them.

“A bear that loses its fear of humans is a dangerous animal,” said Cory Chick, director of the Southwest region, in a May 2 update on the attack on Durango. “And this sow was teaching her yearlings that humans are a food source, not something to be feared and avoided.

CPW, in its May 2 update, noted that the dam bear and yearlings were in good health and weight, with adequate fat stores.

Authorities must act when a bear poses a risk to humans, Sralla said: “We have to make tough calls.”

Wildlife rehabilitation facilities are scarce. They can take an injured or starving animal that can be restored to health and then go wild.

In 2018, CPW rescued a severely burned young bear in the 416 fire in LaPlata County; he was successfully restored to a rehabilitation center and released.

Most recently, a yearling burned in the Cameron Peak fire last year was released into the wild in Larimer County on May 5; the result, said CPW, of collaboration between landowners, wildlife officers, state wildlife health officials and wildlife rehabilitation.

The lion cub was found asleep on a porch in early December last year, suffering from old burns and, weighing around 16 pounds, starving. It was restored at the CPW facility in Frisco Creek.

But rehabilitation centers can’t accept aggressive bears, Sralla said, because it’s too risky.

“If an animal has shown some kind of indication that it is dangerous to people, it is not a responsibility that we can accept,” she said.

CPW’s policies allow it, under certain circumstances, to move bears that stray too close to human dwellings too often. In such cases, the public should be able to have reasonable certainty that the bear will not be able to harm people. A bear that already has is a risk that CPW cannot accept, Sralla said.

“That’s why we’re making these tough decisions. None of us, as wildlife managers, take the decision lightly. We take many factors into account and at the end of the day safety is our concern, ”she said.

It’s natural to want to know what happens when a wildlife encounter becomes fatal and how to avoid it, Sralla also said.

“There are times when we don’t have all the answers, and we recognize that it’s troubling.”

Bear attacks are not that common in Colorado. Prior to April’s death, the most recent fatal mutilation in the southwestern region of the state occurred in 2009, under dramatically different circumstances.

That year, a 74-year-old woman from Ouray County who was feeding bears from her back porch was dragged through the metal fence she had erected around the porch and killed. An autopsy of the male bear that attacked her revealed human tissue in the stomach.

But non-fatal encounters are on the increase. CPW estimates that there are between 17,000 and 20,000 black bears in the state. Over the past two years, the agency has recorded more than 10,000 bear sightings and reported conflicts.

More than a third of this waste involved trash, which is a big draw to bears and something humans can solve by using bear-resistant waste containers and not taking the trash out until the morning they see it. must be collected, among other steps.

Nearly 880 of the reported conflicts involved bears breaking into buildings and homes – drawn, again, to food, humans did not make sure.

Bears that enter homes to feed, and bears that return once moved, may need to be euthanized. Once accustomed to humans – and attractants such as pet food, bird feeders, fruit trees, trash, and barbecues – bears can become aggressive. Chick said it was because they saw people as a barrier to their food.

Sralla said that as the spring climbed, more bear sightings were coming in, including reports near Ouray. People can do their part to reduce conflict with wildlife and the potentially fatal consequences for humans, bears, or both.

“Part of our job is to make tough decisions. We do this with our communities in mind and the health and safety of the community in mind, but we have a lot of leeway to work together and keep bears from getting used to such an extent that they might assume that people are not a threat, ”she said. .

“We have discretion as long as there is a risk that the bear’s behavior will be altered.”

Katharhynn Heidelberg is Associate Editor and Senior Editor of the Montrose Daily Press. Follow her on Twitter, @kathMDP.

Katharhynn Heidelberg is Associate Editor and Senior Editor of the Montrose Daily Press. Follow her on Twitter, @kathMDP.


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