OURAY – A juvenile bear went on a refrigerator raid in Ouray in the early hours of Monday, July 21, entering a vacation rental home on the 1300 block of Oak Street through an open ground-floor window and ransacking the kitchen for tasty treats.
The scenario sounded like something out of a Far Side cartoon, as Ouray Police Deputy James Berry described it.
“It went into the kitchen, opened the fridge, had a drink, climbed back out the window with some food and sat out on the porch to eat it,” he said. “Then it came back inside, got a bag of bread, and brought that out on the porch to eat it too.”
The bear was on its third course – a bin of dog food – by the time Berry responded to the scene, having been alerted by two frightened women staying in the house.
They had called 911, thinking there was a human intruder, Berry said. In fact, the bear was probably less than nine feet from the downstairs bedroom, where one of the women was sleeping.
When Berry arrived, the bear leaped from the porch onto the hillside and disappeared into the forest behind the house. “It wasn’t aggressive,” Berry said. “As soon as it saw me, it was gone.”
From what he could tell, the bear was moderately sized and probably weighed in the neighborhood of 200 pounds. Berry thinks it may be the same 2-to-3-year-old bear that was spotted elsewhere in the Oak Street neighborhood the previous week.
“It’s kind of funny, but it’s not real safe,” Berry said, stressing that it’s important at this time of year while bears are active in town to keep all ground floor windows closed at night.
The incident was just one of many bear tales being swapped by Ouray County residents over the past week or so.
“The bears are getting active,” Ouray County Sheriff Junior Mattivi said. “We have got a sow and two cubs in the Log Hill area near the golf course that have been mellow so far – with no aggressive behavior.”
And on Monday afternoon, July 21, a bear cub was hit and killed on Highway 62 west of Ridgway on the approach to Dallas Divide.
By the time a sheriff’s deputy arrived, someone had retrieved the carcass and taken it away, Mattivi said.
At the Amphitheater Campground near Ouray, there have been many tales of close encounters of the ursine kind over the past few weeks – particularly with a large mature male bear that already has two blue tags in its ear.
Campground hosts Kent Swanson and Ruth Robinson said that about a week ago, one camper (who just happened to be a Boy Scout leader) returning to his campsite following a midnight trip to the outhouse caught the big bear rummaging through the cooler he had left outside his tent, on the picnic table.
“He’s not aggressive – he’s more of an opportunist,” Swanson said of the bear. “He ate the M&Ms, but left the broccoli,” and allowed an onion to roll away down the road.
A woman staying at the campground encountered the same bear on a different night, and scared it off by hissing at it, Robinson added.
Robinson and Swanson have armed themselves with an air-horn, and are not afraid to use it. “We are ready to scare the crap out of them,” Swanson said, adding that most campers at the Amphitheater are bear-aware, and know that the best place to keep their food is in the car – with the doors and windows tightly shut.
As for the Boy Scout leader, “he knew better,” Swanson added.
All of this may sound like the bears are going crazy, but according to Berry, the Ouray Police Department has actually had considerably fewer bear calls this summer than last year. “So far, five or six bear sightings are all we’ve had,” he said. “Last summer we were on bear calls every night – sometimes five or six per night.”
The OPD is actively enforcing the city’s trash ordinance, adopted several years ago with an eye toward discouraging bears from foraging in town. But Berry suspects that the real reason that there are fewer bears in Ouray this year is because foraging conditions are more favorable for them in the high country.
While law enforcement officers have the authority to kill a bear in a menacing situation, ultimately it is up to Colorado Parks and Wildlife officials to decide how to handle a problem bear. Local CPW official Kelly Crane said that she had not been notified about the recent bear incidents in Ouray, but that typically, when her agency gets a call that a bear has broken into a house, “we would set up a trap and the bear would be destroyed,” with the land owner’s permission.
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