A Breckenridge police officer shot and killed a bear Monday, July 14, after it was found injured and digging through trash.
Officers Brady Allen and Caitlin Kontak responded to a call around 2 p.m. about a bear on High Point Drive, and they found the bear sitting near a house next to several trash cans that had been dragged into the driveway and opened.
According to the police report, Allen recognized the bear as the “Carter Park bear,” so called because police often chased it away from Carter Park and Breckenridge Elementary.
As the bear walked away, the officers noticed it wasn’t putting any weight on its back right leg. The bear was missing hair on all four of its legs, according to the police report, which could mean it was struck by a car.
The officers followed the bear as it moved away from a house, and Allen shot the bear in its right shoulder area. The bear ran into a ravine where it died.
“We haven’t euthanized a bear in a really, really long time,” said police chief Shannon Haynes. She said the last time a Breckenridge police officer put down a bear was almost 20 years ago.
At the same time, she added, the police receive a significant number of wildlife calls every year and about 75 percent of those are bear-related. In 2013, the department received 20 bear calls, and the day before this bear was killed, an injured bear was spotted breaking into the trash at the Little Red Schoolhouse.
“We do have a significant number of bears that live in this area, and the thing that draws them into these residential areas is trash,” Haynes said. “If everybody puts their trash away appropriately, we shouldn’t really see these animals.”
Terese Keil, 63, a property manager who lives in the Juniata subdivision, said she saw the bear that was killed near her house two days before it was shot.
“Everybody in this neighborhood is pretty aware to be careful with the bear,” she said. “I mean, my dog chases him away, so he’s never been a threat.”
Keil said she has lived in Breckenridge for 23 years and has seen that particular bear around her home for at least five years.
“It’s very sad,” she said. “We’re just losing so much of our wildlife.”
She said though some human conflicts that end in the death of an animal can’t be avoided, like deer jumping in front of cars, people should be more careful.
“It was nice to know we have wildlife up here,” she said, describing frequent deer, fox and porcupine sightings and the occasional mountain lion and coyote. “Now we may never see another bear up here again.”
Keil said she spoke with a Colorado Parks and Wildlife representative who didn’t think the bear should have been killed and called the situation unfortunate. Then, after learning Breckenridge police officers were involved, Keil spoke with Haynes.
“She did say that she felt very bad, too, about it,” Keil said.
Haynes said the police department’s policy allows officers “to euthanize an injured animal when they believe that there’s not another reasonable action that’s practical and humane and would be effective for rehabilitating the animal.”
She didn’t want to comment on how her officers handled the situation until a review of the incident, standard protocol after officers use force on any person or animal, was completed.
“I think that would be premature and unfair to do that,” she said. “I have questions, and until I get those questions answered I don’t think I should speak on that.”
Mike Porras, spokesman for the northwest region of Colorado Parks and Wildlife, also did not want to comment on the incident.
“We are not in the business of second-guessing any agency or second-guessing any officer,” he said. Instead, Parks and Wildlife officials provide guidance, assistance and education to local authorities and the general public.
Parks and Wildlife officials visited the Breckenridge police after the incident to educate the officers more about bears. Haynes said they have done the same in the past to speak about moose, coyotes and mountain lions, and this time they talked about how injured wildlife can sometimes recover and when to euthanize depending on the circumstance and degree of injury.
Though the police work closely with Colorado Parks and Wildlife, Haynes said, officers don’t call the agency for every bear incident. Instead they often use nonlethal force, like bean bag rounds and loud sirens, to scare bears away.
“We really try hard to use those mechanisms instead of every time calling CPW,” she said. “If they deem it as a problematic trash bear, it could be tagged and put down ... We try to avoid that if we can.”
The police department calls Parks and Wildlife when it is facing a situation it can’t handle, she added, like if a bear is entering a home or threatening a person.
Haynes said residents should secure their trash and anything that could smell like food. She said she routinely hears of people feeding wildlife, especially foxes.
“The fox do all right for themselves. They don’t really need a handout,” she said.
“Even though we really enjoy seeing wildlife, we need to be aware of how they’re supposed to live,” she said. “Be aware of trash rules and the impact that having trash out will have on our wildlife.”
If you run into a bear unexpectedly, back away slowly, make yourself appear larger by raising your hands or jacket over your head and make loud noises. Black bears are known to false charge, so resist the urge to run as this may trigger a chase response from the bear.
To report injured wildlife or a bear that may be a problem, call the local authorities or the Colorado Parks and Wildlife at (303) 866-3437.
“We are not in the business of second-guessing any agency or second-guessing any officer.”
spokesman for the northwest region of Colorado Parks and Wildlife