Marshals concerned with new wave of pesky bear problems

Twelve-pound Roger saves the day

Hide the kids, lock the doors, don’t be afraid to scream, and buy a Chiweenie. That might be the best way to handle the swarm of bears causing havoc around Crested Butte as fall approaches. It helped save one local family last Saturday night. Channing and Rose Boucher had just put the kids to bed and were watching television on the couch about 8:45 Saturday evening. “I heard the front door open and said hello,” explained Channing. “We were on the second floor. When no one answered, I went to the top of the stairway and looked down and saw one of the biggest bears I’ve ever seen inside. I screamed like a stuck pig as loud as I could. My kids were in the bedrooms four feet away from that bear. My heart was coming through my shirt.”
Channing said when he screamed, Roger, a 12-pound Chihuahua-Dachshund mix, took off after the 400-pound bear. “Roger was barking, I was screaming and we were both running down the stairs,” said Channing. “The bear backed out of the door and Roger took off after him. I closed the door. It was pretty wild. I don’t know what we would have done if the door had closed behind him and he felt trapped. It would have been ugly.
“They are the foulest smelling creatures that walk the earth,” Channing observed.
“He was in the house ten seconds and it just stunk. But overall we were very lucky.”
Local writer Dawne Belloise didn’t smell that smell, but she saw a bear in her house just the same on Saturday. She was conducting an interview on the phone at her alley cottage on the west side of town when she glanced toward the kitchen and saw a bear by the back door.
“I am just moving in so I have stuff everywhere,” she explained. “But I was talking to Mike Callihan on the phone and heard something snort. I glanced back at the kitchen and just screamed. I yelled there was a bear in the house and hung up on him. I screamed like a little girl. This bear’s head was massive and it was just seven feet away from me. He snorted and backed out really fast. I’m glad the door didn’t close all the way.”
Dawne said the big bruin was quiet as a mouse. “I didn’t hear a thing when he came in,” she said. “He was like a little thief in the night. He knew what the refrigerator was and was just a few feet from it.”
Dawne has a cat instead of a dog. “Mr. Gizmo was under the covers just shaking and blown up like a balloon and had big saucer eyes. We both had a lot of adrenaline.”
Bears in Crested Butte this summer have gone from being pests in the alleys of town, to breaking into cars and garages, to now getting comfortable breaking into homes and businesses. And that worries local law enforcement officials.
“It is potentially very serious,” said Crested Butte chief marshal Tom Martin. “A woman was attacked by a bear in her home over in Aspen Monday and the same thing could happen here.”
In the Aspen incident, a woman was in her house about 10 p.m. when she passed through the entryway of the house and saw a bear. The woman screamed and turned to open the front door to get the bear out of the house, but the bear struck the woman, leaving lacerations on her back and chest. The homeowner was able to flee to the upstairs bedroom and call 911.
Martin said there have been at least 75 vehicles that have been broken into by bears in Crested Butte. Bears have damaged a dozen garages and at least five or six area homes have had bears intrude into the house. Martin said that more than $20,000 in property damage could be attributed to bears. It’s been a bad summer for bear encounters.
The property damage includes caramel apples at the Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory. A bear had broken open the building’s French doors that had a deadbolt in place early Saturday morning and discovered the bounty. A woman walking by the business about 3:30 a.m. spotted him inside the building and she called the marshals. When they arrived, they saw a tray of the apples on the floor and garbage strewn about the building. They found the bear between nearby buildings and he didn’t leave even when the officers used flashlights and noise to try to get him away. But eventually he left the area and the owner of the building has since tightened up the door’s locks.
According to the Division of Wildlife, an average black bear will consume approximately 20,000 calories each day in an effort to put on body fat to survive winter hibernation. Caramel apples must seem like heaven to a bear as the temperatures start dropping.
“We trapped one bear and another was hit by a car and killed about July 24,” said Martin. “But we think there are still five or six bears in the immediate area. We have a trap in town and bait it every night. I think there is a strong possibility of what happened in Aspen happening here. The town residents have been very good about eliminating a lot of the easy food sources, but that has forced them to get more creative. The Dumpsters have been locked and the bear-resistant trashcans are working. Now the bears are looking at cars and garages and even houses.”
Assistant chief marshal Ted Conner agrees. “It’s been crimes of opportunity,” he said.
“They are smelling peaches or food in cars and trying to get in. We had one that got into a car after he smelled salmon eggs from someone’s fishing gear. People need to lock their cars and homes and make sure their windows are rolled all the way up. If a bear can get a wedge into the car window, he’ll rip it right out.”
Marshal Jack Crumpton said people should remember these are wild animals. “They are unpredictable,” he said. “We have to remind ourselves of that sometimes.”
Resident Paul Merck returned from dinner at the Stash Tuesday evening about 10:15 to walk in his home and see a huge bear eating vanilla ice cream out of his refrigerator. “He had both the freezer and refrigerator open and pretty much was eating everything in the house. I told him it was time for him to leave and he did,” Merck said as he cleaned up the house.
“He went out the window he came in through which was in the kids’ bedroom. Luckily the kids weren’t home. He didn’t break anything when he came in. It’s like he tiptoed over it, “ Merck surmised. “He ate two half gallons of vanilla ice cream but left me the chocolate, ate a full thing of butter, yogurt and cheddar cheese. But luckily he didn’t drink my beer.”
Early Wednesday morning, the largest of the bears wandering town was trapped. Martin figures he weighed between 350 and 400 pounds and the bruin was born and raised in Crested Butte.
The fact that the bears wander the streets and alleys not just at night but any time of the day is also worrisome to the marshals.
“It’s been going on a long time around here but it’s worse this year for sure,” added Martin. “We are doing everything we can at the moment. It is a big public safety issue right now and these bears can’t be rehabilitated.
“If they are trapped, they will be euthanized,” Martin added. “We don’t have any choice right now. We’ve been fortunate so far not to have a direct confrontation,” said Martin, “but we’ve been lucky.”
Boucher agrees with that assessment. “We have the lever door knobs and not the round kind, so a buddy said I needed to lock the doors every night and I just forgot. We need to change the handles or make sure the doors are absolutely locked every night. We got way lucky,” he said.
And if you encounter a bear in your house? Martin said the Colorado Division of Wildlife recommends opening doors and not getting between the bear and its escape route. You might also want to borrow Roger.

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